No Complaints #10: Digital hoarding, lady detectives and the sad internet

It's been a while, hasn't it? I got a bit stuck into the Christmas break and didn’t really read anything worth sharing. But don’t worry, I have now, and your regular Friday afternoon service will now resume. I also did a lot of listening to the radio while I was away, so I’ve expanded the “things to listen to” section this week to accommodate that. We start, as every new year should, with some swear words.

Things to read

“In short, they’re very heavy on /k/, /t/, /ʌ/, and /ɪ/, and on voiceless consonants generally. This is not exactly the usual distribution of phonemes in English. Note that both of the dominating vowels are lax ‘short’ vowels – a phonemic, not phonetic, distinction in English (i.e., we think of them as different from tense ‘long’ vowels such as /i/ and /u/).”

—I’m very pleased to have discovered this blog about the linguistics of swearing, and I recommend this post about the “phonology of cusswords” as a great place to start reading.
“Before her girlfriend-collecting days, Swift defined herself by the men she loved. Think of Tim McGraw, as one of her first hit songs went, and think of her. Now she’s defining herself by the women who surround her – famous and non-famous – and has succeeded, rather triumphantly, in changing the way that people talk about her life. Crucially, it’s still Taylor’s World, with a cluster of friends in her orbit, blinking in and out of visibility. But we’d never know: Part of the genius of Swift’s Instagram game is how, apart from Kloss, no one makes more than a few appearances, usually spaced over a period of months, making it effectively impossible to speculate as to an inner circle, frenemies, or fake friends.”

Taylor Swift’s expert navigation through the sharky waters of contemporary celebrity is one of my favourite things to read about, and this piece about her “curation” of her female friendships is a classic of the genre.

“She knew nothing about my recent Dropbox and iCloud data storage purchases, necessary to relieve the strain on my hard drive, stuffed with gigabytes of photos (countless iPhone screenshots of brilliant – and brilliantly bad – Daily Mail headlines), videos (me serenading my roommate with an especially soulful rendition of ‘Leaving on a Jetplane’; my three-year-old nephew serenading me with his version of the Peter, Paul, and Mary classic), and podcasts that I can easily access on BBC Radio 4 but save to my Dropbox anyway. Or about my Google documentsdozens of themcontaining research for stories I wrote two years ago, along with links to hundreds of stories I’ve clipped and catalogued, never to be pursued. And never to be deleted.”

The habits and horrors of the digital hoarder. I’ll admit my interest in this subject is more than a little personal – a colleague looked over my shoulder at my inbox this week and exclaimed “why do you have so many folders?”. I happen to think that having 89 different folders in which to file slightly different types of emails isn’t hoarding, it’s just organisation.


“The book is unmistakably a product of its time in a way I hadn’t originally realised, full of references to lesbian separatist collectives, AIDS, and the porn-focused ‘sex wars’ that saw radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin strike an unlikely alliance with Reagan-era religious conservatives. There’s a cruel and fairly direct swipe at Christian anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly and televangelist Tammy Faye-Bakker, though Dworkin’s compatriots don’t come off much better. And it’s quite specific about how Gilead’s leaders come to power – a fringe religious group massacres top politicians and freezes women’s bank accounts – which makes it easy to dispute its realism. But as improbable as Gilead’s sudden formation is, the apathetic public response to it feels like a grotesquely accurate caricature of real life. Unlike 1984’s Winston Smith, Offred remembers the old world well. And the book’s real horror is not the fantastic future as much as the past.”

A reappraisal of Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which I, like lots of other people, studied at school when I was about 14 and haven’t read since. The writer teases out a fascinating point in this piece that I’d never considered before – while the dystopias of 1984 and Brave New World never came to be, Atwood’s was never entirely fictional in the first place. As a woman, all you have to do to find it is “go back a few hundred years or move to the right country”.


“The Sad Internet is a place full of unwatched videos, unliked photographs, unheard music, tweets that no one cared about, and crowdfunding projects that nobody backed.”

We’re all pretty familiar with what goes viral, but what happens to all the things online that languish, unseen? Of course, there’s apps for that, and the writer uses them to find the things on the internet that nobody loved.


Things to listen to

As promised, a slightly extended section.

The Lady Detectives: Sometimes I think BBC Radio 4 Extra is programming specifically with me in mind. A four-part drama series about different female detectives being awesome and solving crimes (one of which involves nuns).

Working: The real Stephen Colbert talks about how he maintained “Stephen Colbert” for so long.

Macbeth Rebothered: A hilarious retelling of the story of Scotland’s tragic king.

Notorious Ladies: Amina from the previously-recommended Call Your Girlfriend podcast meets Ruth Bader Ginsburg, aka the Notorious RBG.

Cabin Pressure: No joke, the two-part finale to John Finnemore’s sublime airborne radio sitcom made my Christmas. Listen now, so we can discuss our feelings about it asap.


Things to watch

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Can I call you back?


The guest gif

Happy New Year, everyone.


THE END. See you next time*!
*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.