Sunday, 28 July 2013

Feeling all at sea

I'm sat here this morning gazing out to sea. The water is calm. Just gently lapping the shore. Two boats have left port and are making the hourly ferry crossing over to Scotland. The sun is breaking through the misty cloud cover on the horizon. Seagulls occasionally glide by the window. The tide is out. But soon enough it will turn towards us. 

The peace is broken by two little girls sat next to me, tablets in hand playing a dressing up game. Bleep, bleep, bleep.

Yesterday we took delivery of two devices that have already changed my daughters' lives. Dennis the Menace is now instantly available. In-built video cameras at the ready for impromptu film making. And trivia apps on hand to hone their crossword solving skills for the years ahead.

The on demand, constantly connected, generation is here. 

Don't worry I'm fully aware of the irony.

Here I am glued to my phone. Uploading pics to Instagram. Sharing some of those on Facebook and Twitter. Happily disturbed by an incoming email. Even resorting to checking Google+ when I'm really bored.

And blogging as and when I feel the need to while away an hour or so by delving into my inner thoughts.

So how should we balance the benefits of technology with the slippery slope of constant distraction?

I've read somewhere that some families have a technology hour. Not distinguishing between devices. Watch TV or surf the Web. Make a short film or play a game.

Rationing consumption in a vain attempt to hold back the tide. The tsunami of the digital age ready to gobble us all up and sweep us out into the ocean.

I feel all at sea to stretch the analogy a little further.

Perhaps it's the book I'm reading, The Paradox of Choice. Having lived through the eighties and nineties where we wanted more and more. Then through the noughties when we more or less got it all. And now in the 2011-2020 decade (what do we call it btw? The teenies?) we seem to be facing a real dilemma.

On the one hand less is becoming more. Curated choices out-trumping never ending options. The slow news movement fighting back against instant updates and citizen journalism.

Yet with everything available at the swipe of a smartphone, the natural equilibrium is still to resolve itself.

As the world hurtles towards another billion of its inhabitants going online I wonder what life will be like ten years from now.

A decade ago when we got married our wedding video was just that. A VHS video. The photos shot on film. 35mm negatives stored in a shoebox.

It seems almost incomprehensible now to think that the digital age is still so relatively young.

What will my 17 year old daughter reflect on in 2023. Will she remember her first ever tablet? God forbid if the screens by then are embedded in our eyes. The pages swiped by thoughts in our brains. Or will we settle back to a not too distant place near to where we are now?

Mobile phones spent years getting smaller only for them to increase in size.

The world has spent years speeding up only for it to need to slow down perhaps.

Or maybe I'm just showing my age. As I approach my 39th  birthday maybe I'm expressing the first signs of denial.

The tide has turned.

And no amount of wishing otherwise will halt its progress.

The waves are crashing towards me. As I close my eyes the sound is calming and comforting.

The gentle morning sun warming on my face.

And the girls have moved on. Devices abondoned. Now they are welly boot clad and are exploring the beach with wonder.

Maybe everything will work out just fine after all.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Oh to be old and wise

When you're young you're full of gusto and misplaced optimism. Everything is possible. Your imagination runs away with you not constrained by whatever has gone before. You're naive of course. But so what?

As you grow older, through bitter experience you learn to recognise the tell tale signs, you lower your expectations. The knock backs suffered previously, the misadventures, the failures all conspire to temper your enthusiasm.

But how do you prevent yourself falling over the edge into the abyss of cynicism?

We can all picture the cantankerous old git in the corner who can't wait to tell you it won't work. It can't be done. Been there tried that got the t-shirt. How do you stop yourself becoming that really annoying winge-bag?

My childhood sweetheart Aliy used to tease me that I'd be a perfect grumpy old man. Picture the Harry Enfield character: 'You don't want to do that'.

And my best mate Rich and I at Uni used to look forward to the day when we'd be sat with our blankets on our knees at the nursing home setting the world to rights. Telling people what we really think.

The holy grail of course is to achieve a sense of wisdom and to always demonstrate a touch of class.

The ability the keep your head when all about are losing theirs and blaming you.

Being able to trust yourself when others doubt you.

Still being able to dream the impossible but not letting your dreams blind your judgement.

And as you climb higher and higher up the ladder in life never losing your common touch.

Now, the wise amongst you (or the well read) will no doubt have noticed the unashamedly similarities of what I've just said to the classic Rudyard Kipling poem 'If'. Published in 1909 and inspired by the exploits of a British soldier in South Africa, Kippling captured the essence of class. Not as in upper, middle or lower. As in exuding class.

If you've not read it recently or have never had the pleasure I heartedly recommend it.

It forms the introduction to 'Make Yourself Unforgettable' which I'm reading at the moment.

For anyone hoping one day to be thought of as a class act there can be no better checklist to post on your office wall or keep to hand on your desk.

The reason all of this is so front of mind this morning is because my team and I have come up with a cracking idea.

It has all the right ingredients to be a roaring success. It is simple. Engaging. New. But built on a tried and tested concept.

Everyone so far who has heard about it thinks it is great. In fact tempering their enthusiasm is half the battle. But I'm also doing my best to remain calm.

I'm either sat on a gem that will fly and will grow a life of its own. Or the whole thing will unwind and be consigned to the depths of my memory. Only to surface again when someone else in the future suggests something similar and I resist the urge to say 'it will never work.'

Time will tell.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A month off from writing

I haven't felt the need to write a blog for an entire month. This is good news in lots of ways. My general sense of well being has been such that it has enabled me to have a period of stability, mentally speaking.

And this is in spite of me making an idiot out of myself at a conference where I stupidly forgot my 15 years of PR experience and got quoted saying something I then regretted.

Anyway let's not dwell on that shall we. We're focusing on the positive here for goodness sake.

I've just finished reading The Psychopath Test. A great read if you've not heard of it. I like the fact that the author has chronicled a two or three year period and questioned his motivations and beliefs along the road. He also leaves you guessing as to whether we're all a little mad, if not surpressing psychopathic tendencies.

Last week I also watched Rita, Sue and Bob too for the first time. A true classic of British cinema history. Packed so full of memorable one liners like:
'Fat fucking Mavis', 'it's like a frozen sausage', 'get em darn Manningham lane', and 'better than match of the day this'...I could go on!

It makes you realise how much you are unaware of. How did I get to 38 and three quarters without watching this movie. And what else is out there still waiting to be discovered?

My final reflection is about an event I went to last week. It was held in London at the University of the Arts. It was for PR academics and practitioners and was themed around the idea of disruption. I was asked to give them my perspective from the world of Asda and how social media had fundamentally changed our approach to PR and communicating with customers.

But the bit that was weird was doing all this in front of one of my old tutors. She had interviewed me for the course 20 years ago and been one of the first to teach me when I started in Leeds in September 1994.

Those numbers are ridiculous. When I started at uni I was 20 years old. Now someone born the year I went to uni is starting. Yet it doesn't feel like twenty years ago.

I obviously knew nothing back then. But I also still feel like I'm only just starting out. I wonder when if ever I'll feel accomplished. To some extent I hope I never do. Like my scientist father the fun is in the research and exploration, any new discovery only opens up the door to what else is possible.

Yet holding my own amongst academics on Wednesday was also rewarding in its own way.

I can imagine going back to uni in 15 years time. 30 years after graduating I quite fancy the idea of theorising whatever it is I've practiced by then. I'll need to attend somewhere different to my daughters should they choose to go themselves. Dad at freshers week is not cool.

Anyone else fancy joining me? Safety in numbers and all that.

In the meantime my personal development continues with my latest self help style text book 'Make Yourself Unforgettable. How to become the person everyone remembers and no one can resist'.

I'll let you be the judge of whether it has the desired effect. Can you resist telling me I wonder.