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Guardian Readers Tell Their Story; puts austerity into perspective

A few weeks ago, I noted how Guardian readers were sharing their stories about Britain’s austerity, using The Guardian’s new smartphone app. Since then, I have monitored the ratio of stories which reflect genuine hardship (for example, a photo of an empty fridge) compared to excruciating self-pity (such as complaining about the cost of exotic holidays). Sadly, I have nothing new to report. Because Guardian readers have nothing new to report. There are still another three days left to go before their month-long austerity-inspired exercise in citizen journalism comes to an end. But even so, the conclusion is clear: austerity has not affected Guardian readers. Over the space of a month, Guardian readers have contributed a measly 55 examples of austerity, and many of them were laughable. The most recent additions – a photograph of an empty jar supposedly used for collecting spare change, and yet another complaint about potholes – were submitted over a week ago. When it comes to austerity, the reader of The Guardian undergoes some kind of cognitive dissonance. Whilst all Guardian readers know that austerity is a terrible thing that is affecting very many Brits (after all, that is what they read in their newspaper), none of them can give a personal example, apart from complaining about potholes in the road. So if Guardian readers do not experience austerity on a personal level, what is included in their experience of life?

When it comes to suffering, Guardian readers are deeply troubled. By bad cycle lanes. If you thought a weak economy, debt mountain, and strained government finances was a problem, then reflect on the hardships endured by these bike-loving stoics, forced to speak out against the vicious crimes they endure every day. Not only do they have to ride on narrow cycle lanes, but some of them are potholed. In total they shared 217 experiences of what is wrong with Britain’s cycling lanes. Consider this harrowing account:

Narrow and overgrown bumpy tarmac 2-way cycle path beside busy main rd

And my heart goes out to this person:

Lazy Parking on Stretford Road – often more cars stick out in this spot, straight after a busy crossing…really bad cause you are likely to be overtaken by a tail of cars, and have to fight a bit to get out…

What a tragedy – a cyclist being overtaken by cars, thus usurping the natural order of things! And there are many more horror stories, such as painted white lines for cycle paths that go around trees, because the council decided not to rip up the tree in order to make space for the cycle path. Clearly government spending focuses too much on hospitals, jobs and feeding people, and nowhere near enough on the vital infrastructure that cyclists deserve. I suppose those few unemployed Guardian readers who took photographs of their empty fridge must be feeling pretty selfish, after discovering what some people suffer during their daily bike ride to work.

You might argue that cycling is the kind of topic which excites Guardian readers, which is why they have so much to say about cycle paths compared to austerity. But it turns out that Guardian readers find many topics to be more important than the worst austerity Britain has faced since the Great Depression yada yada the sky is falling. The Dutch Queen’s Day Celebrations has racked up 93 contributions, which makes Dutch royal pride approximately 70% more important than Britain’s austerity. Readers sent 80 contributions about visiting their record store, suggesting it is more important to save vinyl than save public sector jobs. And Guardian readers are more likely to come into contact with Syrian refugees (59 contributions) than Brits who suffer from austerity.

The reader who reported that austerity was stopping him from having exotic vacations was rather unrepresentative, it turns out. Through a feature called “Lights, camera, location” we discover all the famous movie locations that Guardian readers get to see on their hols, including trips to Ka’a’awa Valley in Hawaii (where they filmed Lost), the Harry Lime doorway in Vienna, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam (apparently used in Bond films), and Mendoza in Argentina (which I learned was the location for filming Seven Years in Tibet – thus proving the contributor was a double-barrelled movie bore + holiday bore). In total, Guardian readers shared four times as many contributions documenting famous film locations than examples of austerity. And even the person who holidayed in Rome let us down, by failing to mention whether austerity-struck Italians had resorted to fishing out coins from the Trevi Fountain.

What has technology enabled you to do?” has received 82 contributions, despite being an advertorial by EE, the mobile phone network which sponsors The Guardian’s interactive capabilities. Inoculating yourself from the suffering of others is, seemingly, one of the many benefits conferred by expensive gadgets. And for those who are more socially conscious, technology is also a great way to participate in TV debates, as emphasized by an individual who sent in a photo of his smartphone, tweeting this message:

The government want to tax pensioners but your safe if your a big business #questiontime

Hmmm… let us put aside the fact that technology may still fail to correct your grammatical mistakes, and instead focus on the irony of attacking big business by using tech provided by big businesses. This person responded to a big business marketing ploy (from EE) by showing how he spends a lot of money on equipment made by a big business (the manufacturers of his smartphone) and on services provided by a big business (Telefonica, the Spanish telecoms giant that owns this customer’s network) in order to send a message via a big business (Twitter) that tells the BBC (big, but not a business, as it receives taxes, instead of paying them) what he thinks about government taxing big business. On the plus side, he is likely ignorant of all the ways that all those big businesses avoid tax, thus keeping down the cost to him, the end user.

But, of course, I am being silly. Politics, holidays, the economy, and even cycle lanes pale into insignificance compared to the things that really, really matter to Guardian readers. Imagine a drum roll as I reveal the top three:

3. Cats, with 869 contributions.

2. Dogs, with 1029 contributions.

1. And on a mighty 1674 contributions, the most important thing in the life of a typical Guardian reader is: tall buildings. Tall buildings? Yup, it turns out that when Guardian readers are not enjoying the view from a skyscraper in New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, Dubai or Tokyo, they tend to be in the Shard, looking down on all the little people below. In more sense than one.

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