John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for February, 2019


Brexit breakdown: fear and anger on the Irish border – video

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

As fears of a no-deal Brexit increase, John Harris and John Domokos go to where everything gets real: the line that separates Northern Ireland and the Republic. In parts of the province where support for Remain and anxiety about what might now happen run deep, they find ghosts from the Troubles, passionate opinions, and a new crop of politicised young musicians, desperate to escape the pull of the past 

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Northern Ireland’s young people know their history. If only the rest of Britain did too | John Harris

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

England’s casual indifference to the border question has betrayed the post-Troubles generation

Touts are a three-piece rock band from Derry. The name is a reference to the Northern Irish colloquialism for a police informer, which is scrawled and sprayed around their home city; the music they make is full of a sense of Derry’s violent past and its uneasy present. It harks back to the distant days of punk rock, but its sheer velocity also speaks of an urge to get on with the future, whatever that might be. The band are part of a lineage of music interwoven with Northern Ireland’s difficult politics and history: as the Belfast-based music writer Stuart Bailie’s brilliant book Trouble Songs puts it, raw art that has “challenged given stories” and provided “succour and a sense of collective worth”.

Related: The backstop isn’t just about trade. Is that so hard to understand, Britain? | Dearbhail McDonald

Related: Think the backstop issue is insoluble? My Brexit plan will please everyone | Roland Alter

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Zucked by Roger McNamee review – Facebook’s catastrophe

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

An important investor explains how his enthusiasm has turned to shame

As the so-called Techlash gains pace and polemics on the downsides of the internet flood the book market, one omission seems to recur time and again. Facebook, Google, Amazon and the rest are too often written about as if their arrival in our lives started a new phase of history, rather than as corporations that have prospered thanks to an economic and cultural environment established in the days when platforms were things used by trains. To truly understand the revolutions in politics, culture and human behaviour these giants have accelerated, you need to start not some time in the last 15 or so years, but in the 1980s.

Early in that decade, the first arrival of digital technology in everyday life was marked by the brief microcomputer boom, which was followed by the marketing of more powerful personal computers. Meanwhile, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were embedding the idea that government should keep its interference in industry and the economy to a minimum. In the US, a new way of thinking replaced the bipartisan belief that monopolies should always be resisted: concentrations of economic power were not a problem as long as they led to lower prices for consumers. And at the same time as old-school class politics was overshadowed, the lingering influence of the 60s counterculture gave the wealthy a new means of smoothing over their power and privilege: talking in vague terms about healing the world, and enthusiastically participating in acts of spectacular philanthropy.

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Rebuild the faded towns of Britain to end our national malaise | John Harris

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

New research shows a hollowing-out of communities. Our wellbeing depends on restoring the pride of places

For the past nine years or so, I have been observing a regular journalistic ritual. In pursuit of enlightenment over where the country may be going, how people are going to vote, and their opinions about such massive issues as Brexit and Scottish independence, I have pitched up in scores of places and begun my inquiries with some version of a simple question: how is this place doing?

In most cases, I can still depend on the same answer quickly cropping up in at least 50% of conversations: a loud complaint about the number of closed-down shops and the dire state of the town centre. To some extent, such stories have now hardened into a grim cliche, summed up by those shots of boarded-up premises that are a staple of the TV news, and weekly reports about the fate of our high streets. But that does not make what people say any less true, or detract from how passionately they feel about something that has now been happening for over a decade.

Related: ‘Everything’s leaving’: Sheffield’s high streets gutted by vacancies

Related: High street crisis deepens: 1 in 12 shops closed in five years

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Death of the private self: how fifteen years of Facebook changed the human condition

Friday, February 1st, 2019

In 2004, the social network site was set up to connect people. But now, with lives increasingly played out online, have we forgotten how to be alone?

‘Thefacebook is an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges. We have opened up Thefacebook for popular consumption at Harvard University. You can use Thefacebook to: search for people at your school; find out who are [sic] in your classes; look up your friends’ friends; see a visualization of your social network.”

On 4 February 2004, this rather clunky announcement launched an invention conceived in the dorm room of a Harvard student called Mark Zuckerberg, and intended to be an improvement on the so-called face books that US universities traditionally used to collect photos and basic information about their students. From the vantage point of 2019, Thefacebook – as it was then known – looks familiar, but also strange. Pages were coloured that now familiar shade of blue, and “friends” were obviously a central element of what was displayed. However, there was little on show from the wider world: the only photos were people’s profile pictures, and there was no ever-changing news feed.

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