Robert Pimm

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Paris, the Internet, and the FT

My recent blog “The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation” set out troubling facts about this most wonderful of inventions.

One of my concerns was that:

“the Internet polarises opinion.  Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting.  Who can shout loudest?  The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme.  Slag someone off.  Be outrageous.  You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site?  No?  That’s because there isn’t one.  You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line.”

So I was interested to see this weekend in The Financial Times a piece by Simon Kuper, “Paris attacks: Notes from a wounded city” (NB if you don’t have a subscription to the FT, you can sign up to read the piece – and several more every month – free).

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Kuper’s piece is characteristically thoughtful. I like his resistance to simplifying everything – particularly anything as tragic as the Paris attacks. But I was most struck by his comment that in the world of punditry and politics, “the people with the clearest messages win“.

Thus, Kuper suggests, if you want to look at the world in a more nuanced way – he quotes a man who asked of the 13 November events “with what perception must I perceive this?” – you are unlikely to be invited onto TV to pontificate about how we should react.

What people want is certainty; and that is what pundits offer.

That is often the equivalent of shouting loudest. But it is not always the best way to approach important issues.

Do check out Simon Kuper’s piece, and my earlier blog.

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The Berlin Wall: my part in its downfall

Istanbul is possibly the most historic living city in the world.  But other cities have extraordinary histories, too.

25 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down.  I was living in London at the time, and was as surprised as anyone.  I thought: “should I travel to Berlin?  This looks like history.”  But I made a mistake, and decided I was too busy at work.  I’ve been regretting that decision ever since.

Later on, however, I was lucky enough to live and work in Berlin for seven years, from 1999 to 2006.  During that time I came to know and love this terrific city, with all its confusion, vibrancy and troubling, sometimes dark, history – it’s one of my favourite places on earth.

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Getting to know Berlin included walking the entire 166km length of the “anti-fascist protection wall” with some friends, in ten instalments.  I wrote a newspaper article about walking the wall, for the Financial Times, in 2003.   It’s a lyrical piece, focusing on “my three favourite spots where you can best appreciate the wall that isn’t there“.  It includes the following:

Tourist: Where’s the wall?

Guide: Here. (more…)

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