Sometimes I ask myself:
“It’s all very well this internet digital thingy but it is actually useful?”
We are now making our own entertainment on any device we choose, but there’s still the grind of being hassled by call centres and paying the bills. And all digital seems to have done in this area is allowed companies to sack employees and force the customer to do the work instead.
So here’s something actually useful for a change.
I recently signed up to “Ready to switch”.
Since I was bored with losing my temper with my energy provider every time they put up my direct debit without asking me, I thought I would give it a go.
All I had to do was:
Fill in a form online. One of the easiest forms I’ve ever had to fill in.
Read a few emails.
Access my new account with Scottish Power.
Provide a meter reading.
No phone calls, no salespeople, no complexity, all very easy.
The result is a 30% reduction in my monthly payment. This happy state of affairs may not last forever, but the point is the whole process was done online and by email and for once was simple, easy and stress free.
If only all digital transactions were like this!
When ideas become mainstream people assume they are right and stop testing them. People start parroting words without thinking.
Perhaps I’m just contrary for the sake of it. I like people who try to think before they write, who dissent and perhaps above everything else, write well.
I like the way they think, even if I don’t agree with what they think.
Evgeny Morozov’s long examination of the career of Tim O’Reilly “The Meme Hustler” is pointed and personal but I agree with him on one thing. Even when your cloak your beliefs in supposedly neutral technical language they are still beliefs, they are still an ideology (whether you agree with that ideology or whether you don’t). Don’t use language to pretend that beliefs are facts.
Mat Honan makes some good points about “Twitter’s big challenge: too much twitter” in Wired magazine. I’m a Twitter junkie myself. But is it actually in Twitter’s interest to curate more for its users? Isn’t the point about twitter that it’s about the power of personal recommendation and personal relationships with people you trust? If Twitter interferes in this, through promoted tweets (spam), advertising or some other kind of impersonal automated recommendation doesn’t that undermine what people like about it?
Shanley is one of my favourite people I’m following on Twitter. “An Open Letter To Women In Technology” is a call to arms. The complacent masculinity of tech is worth challenging: if this “war” happens I may be hiding in the basement until it all blows over. But she writes so well…
We should not trust people just because they are experts, but if we are not prepared to put the time and effort in to understand something, to take a step beyond that column we read in The Guardian or “what my friend Phil told me”, then we are placed in a position where must defer and try and make the best decision we can as to who we should defer to.
When did coffee become a symbol for civilisation?
An extract from Erik Schmitt’s new book about the future (“Your Life in 2033”) in last Saturday’s Guardian started with a nice coffee. It’s not online yet so here’s the first couple of paragraphs at the end of this post.
It looks like the future for some people is going to be exactly the same as the past and the present: all needs catered. This time by software and machines rather than slaves or servants. There’s always “freshly brewed coffee” to start the day.
Sounds great doesn’t it?
I mean everybody likes coffee, don’t they?
I was in Amersham at the weekend.
The weather is wierd at the moment. It should be Spring, but it isn’t. I find it ominous, disconcerting, the cold is somehow cruel, the earth repressed and bitter.
I don’t know why someone would write an extract from William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” on a what looked like a wooden gate in front of their house.
But somehow it seemed fitting.
I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the British Dental Association last week at a seminar ran by ISOK UK called “The power of social media to support knowledge sharing”.
It was refreshing to be at a social media event where the speakers had such a high standard of spoken English and there was so little jargon and gobbledegook. As happens when I’m feeling relaxed, I talked too much.
Watching a video of some young, shiny people talking about curation made me wonder about the differences between curation and journalism.
Curation is about content that is already published. Selecting things from the vast mass of digital material pumped out every day on the Internet.
Curation is a public act. Curators are visible.
One way to define journalism is “publishing things that some people don’t want you to know”. Investigative journalism.
(For the moment let’s put aside the fact that some journalism consists of rewriting press releases i.e. things that are already written and increasingly published.)
Up until now most journalism has not happened in public view: sifting through paper documents, talking to sources who can’t be revealed, getting people who have been ignored or gagged to tell their story “on the record”. There are plenty of romantic or cynical fictional views of journalists but it’s only recently that they have had digital personas and twitter profiles. Most news stories traditionally do not have by lines. Who wrote them is not deemed important. It gets in the way of reading about what happened. Most journalists are not as visible as the people their stories are about.
Investigative journalism assumes that information is power and it’s one job of journalism to break the hold of the powerful on information in the public interest.
This implies a certain set of attitudes in journalism: skeptical, combative, curious, trying to reveal things that are hidden.
How much curation is skeptical about what is being curated?
Curation feels more like an endorsement: “I like this, it’s good” rather than “you need to know about this even if it’s not good news”. Often I feel curation is more about the personality of the curator rather than the information they are curating. If it’s already public, it must be good right? I sometimes feel I’m being sold a product, not being told a truth.
How much genuinely new information have curators uncovered? How far do curators tactly endorse the status quo and the ideology of digital?
What would “investigative curation” look like?
(Just to be clear, I’m not saying journalists don’t have egos…)
There’s a useful list of all Royal Charters since the year 1231 at the Privy Council website. Scanning the list not many seem to be instruments of brutal tyranny.
The BBC is governed by a Royal Charter. It’s regulated by both the BBC Trust and by OFCOM. BBC people often moan about compliance. Others observe that the BBC is more regulated than any other media organisation in the UK.
The BBC’s relationship with government is complex. Some of the BBC’s biggest crises have involved conflict with the government of the day. Sometimes the BBC has won, sometimes it has lost.
But the BBC’s journalism has an international reputation for quality, impartiality and accuracy. And despite the horrible stuff of the last year people still trust the BBC more than other institutions. The BBC does do investigative journalism. Maybe it should do more.
Would a Royal Charter for the press be the end of the world?
Could we have a Royal Charter outlawing spam please?
“See a penny and pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck”
So I had to park the car to visit the supermarket. I only needed 50p worth of time but I only had pound coins for the machine. The machine doesn’t give change.
But someone had dropped a pound coin by the machine which I picked up and used to pay. So I was even. (Someone had dropped twenty pence nearby as well so I was ahead!).
The pound bought me two hours of time. I was only in the supermarket twenty minutes.
So as I left I gave my paper ticket to someone who was just about to buy one, thereby saving them a pound.
My device would be able to pay for exactly the amount of time I needed. I would never find cash dropped on the ground. If I found someone’s mobile phone on the ground I wouldn’t take it I would call them to give it back. My electronic ticket would be hooked up to me or maybe my car so I wouldn’t be able to transfer it to someone else.
Society is built on waste and surplus. On finding things that others have lost and reusing things they have thrown away. On gifts they don’t know they’re giving. I felt pleased with myself and the woman I gave the ticket to had a little smile.
A cashless world may be more efficient. But would it be less fun, even less social?
I really enjoyed Gus O’Donnell’s passionate and powerful defence of the value of bureaucracy on Radio 4 on Tuesday.
Here’s a quote from the programme:
“Without rules and processes society would fall apart”
Which reminded me of this quote from Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae”:
“Moral codes are always obstructive, relative and man made. Yet they have been of enormous profit to civilisation. They are civilisation.”
Which in turn made me think as to whether creatives and entrepreneurs and the bureaucrats who are supposedly their nemesis are actually as different as we like to think. Certainly in my experience at the BBC many of the people running the business have a distiguished record in programme making. Creative people do make rules about what they do, even if these rules are sometimes fuzzy.
These days everything seems like theatre to me, whether it’s what people call “Comms” or “Marketing”, or even arguing a case with a government minister. Everything aspires to be “editorial” or “content”, it’s just that the quality of your avarage “communications message” is worse than the quality of the average radio programme (I hope that the quality of the average briefing paper to a minister is high). The Pollard Review report read like a novel to me.
Are the people building the amazing new Government Digital Service “bureaucrats”? They’re certainly civil servants. And they’re being amazingly creative.
Isn’t making a birth certificate and recording all births somehow a creative act?
Don’t get me wrong.
I like cake. I like it as much as the next man. Or woman.
I like cake at home. I like cake at work.
But it occured to me the other day that my workplace seems to be awash with cake, biscuits and sweets of all kinds. More than any time in my working life I’m surrounded with sweet tweets.
Is this because of the country’s recent obsession with baking?
Is it because open plan working and hot desking make the workplace less enjoyable so you have to have sugar to get by?
Do “clear desk” policies make the workplace more sterile and less personal so some cake gives it back a human flavour?
Is offering cake as a gift a way of influencing colleagues (er… yes!)?
Or am I over thinking this?
Maybe the best thing to do is tuck into another slice…
Like many, my attention was caught a few weeks ago by something described as “the most important document ever to come out of (Silicon) Valley”.
From the hype I was expecting a cross between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the US Constitution.
I liked some of the ideas in the deck, particularly the notion of not logging employees holiday time, on the grounds that the extra time that employees spend working at weekends or outside office hours is not logged.
But some of it seemed to be based on a naive assumption: that the company could keeping growing forever and never become bureaucratic or too big by a simple policy of only hiring “ever more high performance people” (“stars”) and getting rid of people who were underperforming.
Putting aside the fact that the notion of what “high performance” is somewhat undefined in the deck (“high performers make very few errors” the deck asserts on slide 62), it’s rare for a business to get bigger and bigger forever. This is particuarly true in digital (remember My Space). And companies of any size always need structure (another word for bureaucracy).
For a more candid, brutal but much more useful look at cultures (in startups but could be applied to any organisation), you should read “What Your Culture Really Says” by @Shanley. (Once again I’d never heard of @Shanley until a link to her blog tweeted by someone else).
Toxic lies about culture are afoot in Silicon Valley. They spread too fast as we take our bubble money and designer Powerpoints to drinkups, conferences and meetups all over the world, flying premium economy, ad nauseam. Well-intentioned darlings south of Market wax poetic on distributed teams, office perks, work/life balance, passion, “shipping”, “iteration,” “freedom”. A world of startup privilege hides blithely unexamined underneath an insipid, self-reinforcing banner of meritocracy and funding.
There’s no direct reference to the Netflix document in @Shanley’s analysis. But they can be read side by side – one a vision statement for a particular kind of warrior capitalism, the other a hard headed critique of it.
The start up scene and the FOSS Open Source movement share the same kind of ideological roots. As Joseph Reagel shows (“Free as in sexist?” Free culture and the gender gap”), a feminist look at these ideas reveals how limiting they can be for women. @Shanley makes a similar point:
What your culture might actually be saying is… Our employees must be treated as spoiled, coddled children that cannot perform their own administrative functions. We have a team of primarily women supporting the eating, drinking, management and social functions of a primarily male workforce whose output is considered more valuable. We struggle to hire women in non-administrative positions and most gender diversity in our company is centralized in social and admin work. Because our office has more amenities than home life, our employees work much longer hours and we are able to extract more value from them for the same paycheck. The environment reinforces the cultural belief that work is a pleasant dream and can help us distract or bribe from deeper issues in the organization.
After all, how many of these “high performers” are likely to be women? And isn’t “star” just code for “some bloke who thinks like me”?