Matt Marshall

3 Posts with Tag rant (All tags)

Journalling 014 -- Nostalgia

Content alert. This started as a rant, and not a particularly thought out one. I think there's a perceivable shift in tone when I realise that my frustration may be rooted (at least partially) in privilege. I hope it's ok, now. It needs work.

I'm seriously sick of nostalgia. Yeah, I get it, nostalgia is cute and warm and it reminds you of when you were a child. It's kinda about that that I want to rant about. Nostalgia is why reboots and sequels to 80s and 90s franchises make bajillion moneys at the box office, and as a result of this Hollywood producers see them as safe bets and, after a few more years of this; we'll have an entire generation of producers who've never seen an original idea. Yes there are exceptions, but the trend is there.

Nostalgia is the basis for the entire fucking raison d'être of the Conservative movement. Look at this shit:

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. By some definitions, Conservatives have variously sought to preserve institutions including religion, monarchy, parliamentary government, property rights and the social hierarchy, emphasizing stability and continuity, while the more extreme elements called reactionaries oppose Modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".[1][2]

Look at that crockpot of bodily humour. Traditional social conditions. Fucking nostalgia. Right there, fucking everything up. EU Referendum? Nostalgia for the 'good old days' of the British Empire, imperial measurements, and polio. Fuck it.

On an individual level, my generation has coined the term adulting to define their surprise at being able to function at a basic level in society. Yes, I get it; society sucks atm. Really, and I feel genuinely bad for people who feel uncomfortable in their adulthood, who've been failed by the systems in place that should provide them with that security as a member of society. My partner is obsessed with growing older, and how it's terrible. Part of that is the Capitalist-Patriarchy telling (and selling) her that she as a woman has an expiration date on her value. Part of it is a nostalgia for being a 12 year old cuddled up with cartoons (I know because I've asked why she's always hating being an adult). I honestly don't get it. When I inquired further, both her and her sister said that they hate the stress of being an adult and fending for themselves. The diehard socialist in me agrees that yes; you shouldn't have to worry about that, as we should all be chipping in to institutions that worry for us. I get it.

I'm quite privileged. I don't have to worry about a large number of social conditions faced by various intersections of the population. I try my best to be an ally in training, but I stumble at times. What I'm trying to say is that growing up, and out of childhood is not a bad thing. And I'm sorry for anyone who's had their adulthood suck for various reasons.

I was going to write this next paragraph as a "you". Then I realised I have absolutely no right to dictate the experiences of others. For me, this is my answer to those who ask why I'm rarely nostalgic for the past; why I'm never trying to recapture my childhood.

I've never been so stressed, but I've never had so many important things to keep me occupied. I've never been so worried about money, but I've never had money of my own to do things with. I've never been so concerned about eating right and exercising, but I've never before taken pride in the body that I inhabit and been so aware of the effects of what I do with it. I've never stressed out about living with a mucky flatmate, but until then I'd never operated entirely by myself. I've never worried about what I'm going to do after my PhD, but I've never before had qualifications to my name that can let me make choices. I've never before worried about finding time for my hobbies, but I've never had so many interesting things that I want to do! I've never had my heart broken before, but I'd never loved another human being so deeply before. I've never had to explicitly make time to catch up with friends, but I never had such a diverse cast of friends all around the world before.

I've never been so exhausted all the time, but I've never been so driven. That's why I'm not nostalgic for the past.

nostalgia rant reflection growth privilege journalling adulthood

Please use PDF

I'm currently marking undergraduate Lit Reviews, and everytime I open up J. Bloggs' folder to see their work and see a gorram .docx file I actually want to cry. Word files are terrible generally, but I should also not be expected to fire up an entire office suite just to view a document. If I ever end up in charge of setting undergraduate coursework I'm making it a rule that every document should be submitted as .pdf where appropriate. Here's why.

(Nb: After this point I'll start referrring to file formats without the . and the italics since I'm writing in markdown and really can't be bothered to keep it up until I write a proper editor)

A .pdf file represents a finished product

A pdf file represents a finished document that you're willing to show the world. The whole point of a pdf is to "present documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and Operating Systems" (Adobe). It contains all of the information needed to display the document correctly -- typefaces/fonts, layout, sizes etc. Screensize not withstanding, I see a pdf the same on my machine as you do on yours. It even compresses it; I once had a 50MB OpenDocument file crunch down to barely an mb when exporting as pdf.

If you send in a docx file (or even odt or tex), that sends a particular message to me. That message roughly translates as "You aren't meant to see this yet". Those files are software-specific files for document creation and represent the toolkit you're using. If you were doing graphic design for someone, and handed in the work you would export it into a format that you knew they could see such as a png or svg. Obviously graphic design is a bad example, since you often send in source files as part of the hand-in, so that the client can mess up your work later on (or their team can tweak it for printing etc.). More accurately, if you were painting somebody a picture you wouldn't hand them a palette of wet paint. So don't hand in docx, tex, or odt files.

.pdf is an open standard

I could rant on about how awesome open standards are, but there are many who've done so already (and more eloquently then me) such as these guys. Adobe used to control pdf but they made it an ISO standard in 2008. There's still problems, obviously -- but being an open standard is the first step towards solving them for everyone.

It gives you the freedom to choose your toolkit

This one is probably the most important one for me as a technologist generally, but also having been through undergrad programmes (and currently doing postgrad stuff). I came to Uni as a fully-fledged Linux snob and couldn't use MS Word if I tried. I'd just completed an A-level in Double ICT which involved a lot of document creation, so I knew first-hand how terrible doc and docx files were to use in other office suites. Opening a document in LibreOffice that was created in MS Word is one of the most painful experiences a F/LOSS user can ever go through due to formatting errors (although I'd argue that's docx's fault rather than Word or Writer, but that's another blog post).

If you're working collaboratively on a document, you should have a discussion about tools used for document creation. This is important inside and outside of academia (I had an experience recently with LaTeX-Word conversion on a paper). If you're working on your own, however, producing a pdf as a final product means that you can choose whatever system you want to produce it in and nobody else is affected. I began producing all my reports in LaTeX a little while ago, but I can also jump back to a word processor whenever I want without much change in output at the other end. I can even use PHP to turn a web page into an A4 pdf report if I so choose and achieve the same results.


Whatever your opinions are on the pdf standard, simply having a standard that represents a finished product is a good thing. You should be handing that in whether it's a CV/resumé, a short-form report, or a thesis. How you produce it therefore becomes a relatively minor issue, and should be invisible on the other end. Pdf is how we should achieve this short-term, and then we can begin fixing that standard once we have that mindset.

diary rant marking academia, phd