“This is why I find the current media storm around Britpop’s anniversary so troubling. It’s a celebration of the very conservative, a backward glance to something that was already backwards-looking. It’s not twee, exactly, but it is very Keep Calm And Carry On, it is very cosy, it is very mod, parochial, flag-wavy - “Yanks go home” mag covers, and so on. Indeed, a Google image search of the term ‘Britpop’ occupies the overlapping point of the Venn diagram between Oasis’ fanbase, UKIP’s youth wing, and a crap London souvenir stall.”—The Quietus | Opinion | Black Sky Thinking | Modern Life Isn’t Rubbish: The Trouble With Britpop Nostalgia
Of course management consultancy is a large field covering widely varying sectors, and much of it has nothing to do with the sort of jargon-swamp in which W1A’s characters are mired. And there are also many types of consultants – brand consultants, digital consultants, networking consultants and, no doubt, consulting consultants.
All of them, in one way or another, are selling the same thing: modernity. Or its deceitful twin: novelty. Institutions tend to fall into reassuring habits and can become hidebound by the shared conviction that “that’s how we’ve always done it”. That’s where consultants come in: with new ideas, innovative thinking, radical solutions.
While reorganising the office furniture may seem about as productive as rearranging the Titanic’s deckchairs, we are told that behind such decisions lie the latest findings in evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and human resources. That last term is also testament to a more insidious problem – the belief that new ideas, or even old ideas, require a new language. They don’t. But bad ideas do thrive in conditions of maximum claptrap.
It is easier to conceptualise the world as a fair place, in which individuals get their just deserts, than to accept that there are systemic problems, games rigged in which some win big and others will never win. In boom times, this individualism is visible in a febrile therapy culture, in which, Manhattan-style, everyone is involved in a talking cure. In a bust, as the Midlands Psychology Group points out, “The quasi-religious belief in the power of the individual to overcome their own problems, embedded deeply in Anglo-American culture, and within much of psychotherapy itself, has long been used by the powerful as a justification for disciplining the poor.”
So, what, if not a mere knowledge deficit and discipline failure among the poor, does cause obesity? The anthropologist Elizabeth Throop points to a culture in deep conflict – idealising thinness on one hand while characterising anorexia as the result of “low self-esteem”; depicting, in films, diets that will definitely make you fat (or “obesogenic behaviours”) while the characters eating them simultaneously deride obesity and are, themselves, very thin. An obesity systems influence diagram depicts the interplay between social psychology, individual psychology, physiology, food consumption, food production and the activity environment; it’s too dense to summarise. Some of it I don’t even believe (suspecting strongly that it came from self-reported calorie intake). And yet we’re mad to fixate on the losers in this obesogenic world. We should be fascinated by the people who create it, protect its methods; the handful who win from the processes that create obesity. What makes them tick? Why can’t a manufacturer make a pro-social decision every once in a while? Why is processed food so bad for us? Who gains from that?
“In the West, and particularly in urban centers of the United States, we’ve turned coffee into not just a daily habit, but a totem of conspicuous consumption. They are “rituals of self-congratulation” (a choice phrase from Frank Bruni) wherein we continually obsess over certain coffee purveyors or certain methods of brewing coffee — each new one more complex, more Rube Goldbergian and more comically self-involved than the previous brewing fad.”—
“Early in 1999, when Robin Terrell was managing director of Amazon UK, the company postbag would regularly contain a particular form of correspondence. Customers would send handwritten letters to the newly launched online retailer’s headquarters on an industrial estate in Slough, drawing attention to something extraordinary: they had dialled up the Amazon website, searched its catalogue for a product, paid for it using a credit card, waited a few days and then a deliveryman had arrived at their door with a box, inside which was the book they had ordered. The transaction was enough to prompt not just correspondence, but wonder: it wasn’t the product that excited the consumer, it was the fact that the process had worked.”—Why the online/offline split no longer matters (Wired UK)
“Now, everywhere we turn, from the lower echelons of Web entrepreneurs like Aung Than, who use it to cash in on their cartoons and pretend they are doing some vital service to mankind, to the upper atmosphere of privileged tech millionaires who urge us to “do what you love and the money will follow”, we are drowning in a flood of aspirational libertarianism. This is not the cruel, hard-edged objectivism of Ayn Rand that scorns charity and embraces social Darwinism; it is a feel-good philosophy of wealth as a byproduct of passion, always equipped with a quote from Einstein or Vonnegut or Deepak Chopra to ease our conscience about using capitalism as a method of spiritual enlightenment. It is a gospel of achievement, not of domination. It paints the lower orders not as moochers and leeches, forever begging their betters for a handout, but as non-creatives and under-achievers, whose greatest crime is not wanting it bad enough. But while it couches its message of attainment uber alles in (literal) terms of art, the message is essentially the same: you deserve success, and it is your talent that entitles you to it. And if you fail, it’s because you’re just not trying.”—Inspiration Disinformation | LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM
Those generally sanguine about the disappearance of the BBC’s flimsy youth wing should consider the implications of BBC3’s axing more carefully, because it’s entirely of a piece with one of the most objectionable tropes of the coalition’s wider strategy. Is there a single strata of society doing worse out of the Cameron Project than the young? This latest blow represents yet more ruthless targeting of the powerless - it’s just that this time, the government has diverted the cause and effect downstream and found someone to do their bidding for them. Presumably, there’s an assumption at the BBC that the consumers of Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show and Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet of Crisps will be less likely to kick up a meaningful fuss than lovers of Jonathan Meades and Storyville. Based on the BBC 6Music furore, it’s probably a correct assumption, but that doesn’t make it any less ignoble. In any case, viewers should be under no illusions that the axe doesn’t still hang over BBC4 too.
So does death by a thousand cuts loom? Well, yes. The best way for the BBC to guarantee this kind of lingering, painful death is to proceed exactly as it is - quiescent, conservative and increasingly indistinguishable from its competitors. It’s time for the BBC to draw a line in the sand, stop apologising for its own best qualities and launch a counterattack.
“So next time you share a Daily Mail link and are shouted down by social media police, tell them this. All of this. Tell them that they are perpetuating a baseless half-truth about the mailonline’s profitability that might actually help the Mail weather the financial storm, because consumers, investors and advertisers will mistakenly perceive it to be more valuable then actually is. Tell them that by sharing these things on Facebook, you will bring about greater scrutiny on their content from our dark overlord, Zuckerberg, who is looking to stamp that sort of thing out. Tell them that in clicking on links to the dailymail.co.uk you are helping to destabilise their primary source of revenue and might actually be expediting its demise.”—Profits Of Doom
One day my manager showed me a horrible graph. It was pretty simple: the graph was steady, then it dropped straight down, then after a short period, the line shot straight back up and stayed level again:
“That’s what happens when we do the right thing”, he said while pointing at the drop, “and that’s how much money we lose. We tried it just to see how bad it was for our bottom line. And this is what the data tells us.”
“Wow,” I said, taken aback. My employer clearly had two options: “do the right thing” or “be profitable”. That was the position they had manuevred themselves into through a series of bad management decisions.
My manager then said, “More than half the company would have to lose their job in order for us to stop these tactics … so are you volunteering to be one of them?”
That was the day I learned I’d rather lose respectfully than win without honor. Once people become wary of your products or your business ethics, it’s game over. You can’t sustain for long, because you won’t keep your customers much longer.
In the early 90s a young British computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee had been tasked by CERN (Centre Européeen pour la Recherche Nucléaire the now famous large hardon collider that found the Higgs Boson or a tiny thing pretending to be it) to go in and see if he could find a way of getting the Tower of Babel of different computing platforms used by the hundreds of physicists at the plant to talk to each other. He came up with something that made use of metatextual techniques that he called The Information Mine. Being a very very modest man he realised that those initials spelled out his name, TIM, so he changed it at the last minute to the World Wide Web. He wrote a language HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), a set of communication protocols (chiefly htttp — the hypertext transfer protocol) and an application, as we would now say, on which all these could run, which he called a browser.
He planned, devised, programmed and completed this most revolutionary code in Geneva on one of Steve Jobs’s black cube NeXT computers. Hugging his close to him he took the train to Paris where Jobs was going to be present at a NeXT developers’ conference. Clutching the optical disc that contained the most important computer code in history he sat at a desk while Steve marched up and down looking at hopeful programs and applications. As in all of Steve’s judgments they either sucked or were insanely great. Like a Duchess inspecting a flower show he continued along the rows sniffing and frowning until he got two away from the man who had created the code which would change everything, everything in our world. “Sorry Steve, we need to be out of here if we’re going to catch that plane,” whispered an aide into Jobs’s ear. So, with an an encouraging wave Steve left, two footsteps away from being the first man outside CERN to see the World Wide Web.