Why we shouldn’t trade Sundays for Sunday trading

When I was a kid, there was absolutely nothing to do on Sundays.

(Well OK, that’s not strictly true. As a son of the Manse, I had to attend church in the morning, but that didn’t really count as ‘doing something’; it was more like the the spiritual equivalent of having to do the washing up.)

Apart from the newsagents that opened in the mornings, and perhaps the occasional petrol station, everything else seemed to be shut.

From a kid’s perspective – and probably an adult’s too – the net effect was that Sundays were truly boring. So I ought to be whooping with joy at the prospect of the Government’s desire to suspend Sunday trading laws to allow shops and businesses to trade during the London 2012 Olympics.

Continue reading “Why we shouldn’t trade Sundays for Sunday trading”

Privacy and collective attention deficit disorder

It is a tragic irony that, under the hastily erected canopy of ‘media freedom’, the clamour to expose the identity of a Premier League footballer may only serve to degrade the personal freedoms enjoyed by the very people who chipped away at its edifice tweet by tweet by tweet.

But, really, was this about democracy, freedom and rights?

Or was it simply the market for voyeuristic satisfaction, tawdry self-publicity and self-aggrandisement in motion?

The mob doesn’t think
I’m sure I won’t be the only person wheeling out the line of Joe Wilson – played by Spencer Tracy – in Fritz Lang’s Fury: ‘The mob doesn’t think. It has no mind of its own.’ but that’s because there’s precious little evidence that it did.

I won’t dwell on the legal aspects of the case; I couldn’t ever claim to do justice to it (forgive the pun) having read this post by blogger @loveandgarbage yesterday.

But what I will say is that, while people may have thought they were – in some way – championing the cause of a right to know, I’d argue that they were actually engaged in the polar opposite: cannibalising their own right to privacy.

That aside, there is another societal aspect to this episode which is deeply worrying.

It disturbs me that the advent of real-time technologies, like Twitter, are leading to episodes of a kind-of collective attention deficit disorder.

In our haste to express our perspective, often complex circumstances are whittled down to a 140 characters; quite literally, belittling a topic or issue or event.

For example, does it occur to us that the Arab Spring is symptomatic of the clash of liberal capitalist models of democracy with theocratic Islamic thinking? Is that worth a tweet? Or do we simply say ‘Yea! Go for it #egypt’?

Do we take a moment to read and consider the way in which Mr Justice Eady’s judgment sought to balance the competing demands of Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act before upholding the decision to apply an injunction protecting the privacy of a footballer?

Or am I alone in thinking that, as individuals, we are simply paying insufficient attention to the details and background of an issue to form an informed opinion, and bleating our half-cocked views, which suit our prejudices, anyway?

Is our desire for attention the source of self-centred or smart-alec tweets in pursuit of an rise in our mentions and retweet equity – with its potential to boost our PeerIndex or Klout, or even follower count?

And, crucially, is this desire beginning to erode values that, prior to the advent of the social web, we seemed to pay more attention to? Like respect for other people’s privacy, for instance?

Quantities versus qualities
I wonder if, in this clamour for the quantities of life, are we losing our grip on its qualitiesand compromising our ability to aspire to qualities that are socially desirable as a consequence of it?

Because it strikes me that the law doesn’t exist solely to protect us from harm and disorder; it also exists to protect us from ourselves.

The desire to demolish another individual’s rights to a private family life – a right which is specifically catered for in the UK’s Human Rights Act and European Convention – seems not only to show contempt for the law but also to other people’s fundamental right to privacy.

Far from being social, that is little more than anti-social isn’t it?

Our rights may be fundamental but they are not absolute. They depend on the attention and respect we pay to each other’s right to dignity and privacy. The moment we seek to deny an individual of their rights – regardless of popular opinion – we leave our own dignity and respect open to abuse.

The argument that, simply because technology has the capacity to achieve an outcome, can never be an adequate justification for its abuse. In fact it’s an abdication of responsibility that’s tantamount to claiming that it’s the trigger, and not the person holding it, that fires the bullet.

Regardless of technology’s potential, it is always an individual – or groups comprising individuals – that bring its potential to life.

If it wasn’t for my, generally, positive experience of encountering other individuals on Twitter, I would have deleted my account this morning.

As it is, the jury’s now out for me.

Are brands assuming the mantle of quasi nation states?

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve become fascinated by the apparent parallels between the dynamics of nation state building and statecraft, and the transnational behaviour and attributes of global and networked brands; in particular, the Google v China skirmish and the more recent tensions between the US State Department and Attorney General and WikiLeaks piqued my interest.

Even though Marx warned of the globalising effects of capitalism, something else appears to be going on here because it’s not just economic capital that is transcending geographic borders; it’s ideas and movements too.

Somehow, populations of people – and not just business brands – are emerging as brands too; often their apparent power is unrelated to their scale.

This necessarily means that the nature and governance of brands as global actors, and their relationship and alliances both within and beyond the boundaries of nation states, are of real significance to future global political, social and economic stability.

You’ll have seen from those blog posts at NewTradition’s site that these episodes revived distant memories of my university days; specifically, of the ideas that were dealt with in Benedict Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’.

So I re-read Anderson’s book and, once I’d done that, I dug into Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Nations and Nationalism’ and collection of essays on ‘Globalisation, democracy and terrorism’. (To be frank, I’ve read more academic texts in the past year or so than I did throughout my University career.)

And I’m left with the nagging concern that the revolution in communications technology – and it’s worth bearing in mind that Anderson considers the ownership and mechanics of media to have been vital to successful nation building – is creating the conditions in which a new kind of nation state can be conceived: ‘brand nation states’.

Whether there is such a thing as a brandnationstate, I’m not sure.

I’m not sure if brands can genuinely transcend geographic borders and deploy the kind of diplomatic muscle that nation states are able – and, just as often, are unable – to.

I’m not sure if dispersed populations of people, who congregate under the auspices of a brand, really do wield the kind of power and authority that nation states – with their military, legal and governmental instruments of enforcement – do.

I’m just interested to test the ideas. So I’l be digging a bit deeper into the topic.

Top Marx: An animated alternative explanation for the financial crisis

Here’s the chapter I’ve been waiting for on an explanation of the financial crisis: A brilliant animated account – based on a lecture at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) given by Marxist social theorist David Harvey – of why the behavioural traits of the pursuit of capital accumulation fed The Crunch.

Whether you’re inclined to agree with Mr Harvey or not, the use of the animation alongside his word brings the argument to life in a compelling and entertaining way.

On the web, at least, perhaps TED.com has stolen the RSA’s limelight in terms of the propagation of interesting ideas. But this talk – and others at the RSA YouTube channel – amply demonstrate why the Royal Society should grace your bookmarks: Content like this fit snugly into a long tradition of thought-provoking contributions – drawn from across the spectrum of fascinating leaders and thinkers – towards debate on contemporary issues.