For the past 10 years I’ve thought that smokers need to spend less time fighting the enemy, and more time talking to each other. One of my disappointments with Stony Stratford was that, while smokers came from all over Britain and beyond to protest against the proposed street smoking ban, and had a golden opportunity to talk to other angry smokers, most of them seemed to have jumped back in their cars and sped off again as soon as the protest was over.
In writing my blog, I’ve always seen myself as directing my attention more towards smokers than antimokers (whom I rigorously exclude). Some people describe my blog as a virtual pub where smokers can meet up and chat in the comments – which is something I encourage.
But recently I’ve been thinking that perhaps one of the best substitutes for the lost pubs is to use online social media – Skype, Facebook, etc – to have smokers meet up face to face on camera, and smoke and drink and talk almost exactly like they used to do in pubs and cafes. It’s certainly better than meeting up in person outside cold, windswept pubs with rain pouring down on them.
The other thing I started thinking, after watching smokers being interviewed by other smokers in the Smoking Section in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was that simply having videos of smokers talking to each other about their experiences available on YouTube or Vimeo would allow smokers’ voices to begin to get a hearing, now that they are not only excluded from pubs and restaurants, but also from the mainstream media.
So the new Smoky Drinky WordPress blog that I’m launching today has a number of separate aims:
- To recreate online, as best as possible, using Skype or Facebook, the pub environment where people smoked and drank and talked, and in so doing subvert the process of “denormalising” smoking.
- To begin to create a new global online pub community where smokers can meet up on Skype or Facebook for online chats, discussions, or debates.
- To produce and publish on YouTube or Vimeo or wherever a number of videos of people ostentatiously drinking and smoking and talking, so that not only other smokers can see and hear them, but also non-smokers can see and hear them too.
A simple graphic might explain these stages, firstly of people talking to each other, and then forming a community, and finally getting their voices heard by outsiders:
Unlike traditional pubs, which are geographically located, the online pub I’m hoping to start to create will have no geographical location. It will allow people in different countries to talk to each other, face to face, beer and cigarette in hand, about whatever they like.
To this end, in concert with Emily Wieja in Boston, Massachusetts, I’ve put together a number of YouTube videos of people smoking and drinking and talking, usually in their own homes. I intend to keep on adding new videos featuring new people. I’m hoping that the Sketch WordPress theme I’m using in the new blog will allow an unlimited number of videos to be posted up, in tabular fashion. There won’t be very much written in the blog: it’ll almost entirely consist of links to videos. I’ll carry on with my current blog as usual.
At present the only way for anyone to be included in the new blog is either to contact me or Emily by email (or in the comments below), and arrange an online chat at some convenient time for both, or else to make their own videos and offer them for inclusion in the blog. But I’m hoping that as more people become interested, there will be more people available to chat online with.
At present, the online chats can only be done using Skype, Facebook, Google Hangouts. And only on Skype is it possible to record conversations on video with both people appearing side by side on screen.
Also at present it’s only on YouTube or Vimeo that it’s possible to store such videos and make them available.
The weakest element of the new blog is the “community” bit. What I’m hoping is that there’s some platform somewhere where smokers could meet up and maybe swap email addresses in order to facilitate Skype or Facebook conversations. To some extent my current blog (the one you’re reading right now) might serve as the basis of the community. After all, all the participants in the SmokyDrinky videos to date have been commenters on my blog.
People who want to join the new club will need webcam, microphone, and also earphones (to prevent feedback). Most (all?) notebook computers have built-in webcams and microphones. I’ve got a little notebook that does it all perfectly well. Skype membership is free for one-to-one conversations.
This all highly experimental, of course.
I’ve added a link to the new blog in the right margin.
I already have a number of people who are interested in doing Skype interviews/chats. But more or less any smoker or vaper is welcome to contact me to arrange to do one. Antismokers are not welcome, of course.
Advice, suggestions, comments all welcome.