Monday 18 April 2022

Everything is connected to something and someone else; the age of ultra connectivity

We're now more interlinked than ever, with the swipe of a phone or the click of a mouse allowing us to see, hear and hence speak to each other ANYWHERE in the world at any given moment; quite literally, on a whim. Does this mean we can solve more problems faster, better and more easily? More importantly, do we now have a better understanding of each other, in a global context? 

Getting older usually means getting wiser. Invariably some things never change as rapidly or at all, but it’s a given yet unknown quantity that innovation, progress and change are an inevitability of life. Either you embrace change, or in some way or fashion, you’ll feel a little sidelined and confused at the rapid pace with which the future arrives at your doorstep. Or so it seems.

For all the rapidity with which innovativeness is thrown at us in a maelstrom of sound, smell, colour, texture and taste on an almost daily basis, it’s also a relief to know that there are constants in our daily lives. The sky is always in the same place, and our nearest & dearest are also people that aren’t as transitory as a bullet train; that's a comfort & a relief.

And as you get older, you can end up realising other things with pristine clarity. The obvious one being that nearly everyone & everything is connected to everything and everyone else, by a marginal degree of separation.

The most obvious example lies within our social circle. The classic “friend of a friend” concept which is better known as the six degrees of seperation, was coined by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, almost 100 years ago, in a short story he wrote called 'Chains'.

In essence, this refers to the idea that everyone is approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth. There have been various iterations of this theory, with a more popular one being a play on words called 'Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon'. This has the intent of illustrating how everyone in Hollywood is supposedly connected to the aforementioned actor, by six identifiable people ( the steps in question).  On a more readily relatable note, the social networking website Facebook (or Meta), is a more obvious modern day iteration of this concept.

If you have a Facebook account and have 6 friends or more, note how many different people come up in the “people you may know” suggestion box. If you selected every suggestion and carried on in this vein, you may eventually be able to propagate to everyone else on there.

Think about it. That’s only 6 steps away from almost three billion other people with accounts on there; that's almost 18 billion ways to communicate and connect with each other.

The six degrees of kevin bacon, is a humourous way to illustrate the 6 degrees concept

In theory, it's great to have the potential to be connected this way,  as it rekindles our innate need to connect with each other. It has the added emphasis of  belonging to something and grouping together, even if in a superficial manner; after all, we do want and need to feel liked, loved and accepted at some level. 

Furthermore, in our communication oriented world, it becomes much easier than before to spread a message quicker (and also cheaper),than  using the traditional & standardised methods of communication that have prevailed for centuries.

But there are downsides. What about those, for instance, who need to innovate and want to prevent early leakage of their 'eureka moment'? What about those whose livelihoods depend on the next version of a product or service being kept under wraps for as long as possible; an accidental ( or otherwise) leak on the web, can be detrimental with time and money sometimes being spent to revamp the product or service from the same sort of 'early reveal'

More importantly, think of the effect on our personal lives, when literally anything and everything we type/say on the world wide web can be held up to scrutiny like never before.  Can this level of connectivity be used to prevent rather than propagate frredoms & innovation? In order to answer this, the behavioural changes in the real world due to such all encompassing connectivity need to be examined more closely.

Think of how a newer generation has a social skill that my generation (and older), doesn’t take for granted. That is, to talk to complete strangers via social media apps & sites, and to then extend that cyber-relationship into the real world with the minimum of fuss. This has even extended to dating and matrimonial sites, where if you spend enough time using them effectively ( there's a learning curve), you're likely to not only find someone to date, but also to find someone you’ve either already dated or are acquainted with via the aforementioned six degrees of separation concept.

It's as if the world has shrunk into the palms of our hands. With the aid of technology we can now see, hear and say what we want to, with whoever we want, at any time we want. It's an almost limitless and permanently switched-on experience. 

And this has consequences. Some of which we can see & experience immediately,  others are less obvious and cannot be ascertained with immediate effect. In essence, we're all subjects to a myriad of side- effects of using the internet so freely. 

The six degrees of seperation is more prevalent than ever, due to modern technology

In order to deal with what an older generation would probably have deemed an almost irreversible carving into the invasion of privacy, there has been a gradual but noticeable self re-education of sociological and psychological norms. In effect, we’re all becoming participants in a huge cross-pollinated, self-regulating diary, where those of us who use social networking sites are systematically listing our lives in the form of audio-visual sound bites.

And all of this is for the world at large to potentially see, hear and read. Most people who use social networking sites ( including myself), are probably well versed in auto-censoring themselves without too much thought.  This in itself isn’t a bad thing per se, as we all understand and hopefully accept the various levels of netiquette (online etiquette), in order to get along together and share our experiences and lives too.

However, it’s not just about learning (and realising), that behind any number of online identities (both real and imagined), there are actual people responding and engaging. It is also about the awareness of a newer, faster, near Boolean logic-style of cognitive operation. 

In other words, everything starts to become more calculated, with less spontaneity.  There's a constant computational effect of  if/then style coding statements ; “what would happen if then i should/should not...” becomes the instinctive response. And as this increases in frequency,  the time to think through a reply and then respond, for example, becomes quicker. It's a calculated micro-hesitancy, because we're looking at ourselves online, comparing it to other responses and then responding accordingly. 

Just as in the physical world we inhabit, this “world within a world” also carries some level of consequence for responses in activities taken and participated in. For every person out there constructively using the internet, with all its ever evolving tools, there is also the darker side to internet use.

“Trolling” for example, is a form of internet stalking which is tantamount to abusive and unacceptable behaviour. This has resulted in people (and organisations) being charged and arrested, thereby mirroring the consequences of similar actions in the physical world. 

"trolling" or cyber harrasment and bullying, is the unpleasant side of internet use.

Many people, including high profile celebrities and public figures,  have enteried into the realms of lawsuits, because the fingers have acted too quickly for the mind to self-check both the spelling and the content; that's why (and how), the instantaneous nature of social media can sometimes be a weapon, rather than a tool .

But the key point here, is that it's truly up to the individual as to how they conduct themselves at large, amongst an increasing gamut of online  communication portals. In effect, it’s not dissimilar to the real world, where effective communication skills are essential to progress (and even survival), on a multitude of levels.

In essence, those who are better adopters to a more instinctively rapid rhetorical ( combined with other media), expressivity on the internet, stand a better chance of reaching into areas not everyone else can easily reach. Not just online,  but by consequence (and luck), in the real world too; a positive chain of side effects ensues. 

For instance, this would not only increase their knowledge and broaden their horizons per se, but also allow the internet (and indeed the world wide web), to reach their fuller, newer and better potential. Remember, the internet & the world wide web were designed to share information effectively and efficiently. To believe that the original remit would have led to newer industries and jobs at the scale we currently have (and hopefully still growing)'s hard to imagine how anyone would have reacted over 30 years ago to the size, potential, complexity and abundance of what that experience is today. 

Again, as in the physical world, there are websites/ portals and groups of individuals who organise this information sharing, on a profit and non-profit basis, in order to ensure that anyone (from a novice to a heavy 'net user), can find what they need with ease. Of course, as in the physical world, there are barriers to entry and even exit, too.

In effect, the internet, the world wide web and technological innovations such as smartphones and social media have made the six degrees of separation concept an absolute inevitability from here on in.

Furthermore, this has propagated into a newer level of communicative skill that a younger generation have been born into, whilst the rest of us have adapted to this open-ended sociological restructuring, with varying levels of skill and finesse. Inarguably, because we're now more aware that we truly are more connected than we thought possible, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of understanding our inner selves, as well as knowing and understanding the world around us. Self-regulating has also become more de rigeur. In fact, it's essential for a good online experience 

In amongst all the millions of potential friends, faces and data that is available to access, share, and collude over, there can also be an overwhelming amount of 'net noise'. It's analogous to being in the physical world, only the barriers to entry and exit are far easier to navigate. As already mentioned, you're self-regulating to prevent getting lost and even overwhelmed by it.  For example, heavy internet usegse can create patterns of aimless 'net surfing, which can lead to disrupted sleep, anxiety disorders and mood swings,  with their own knock-on effects. 

And it’s not just about keeping an eye on your useage away from work, but during work hours too. For example, many workplaces either ban or limit the use of social networking sites, due to the potential for distraction and taking energy away from the productivity required for the job. 

Conversely, others thrive on it and even need it, as part of the workflow. The design & marketing department of a multinational company, for example, that has it's workforce scattered across the globe,  with different timezones and languages; they're pulling together using slack & zoom for competitive advantages at all hours of the day.

To conclude, it’s better to know what you want out of your online experience, rather than be lost in the myriad of words, sounds and pictures for a lot longer than you intended to be. 

As in real life, discipline and focus are the keys to a healthy internet experience. Having fun online is essential, but in a similar vein, the world we live in isn't a 24 hour, 7 day a week, lawless & freeloading experience. You work, rest, play and pay your dues accordingly. 

At its core, the online experience is similar to who we are at that moment in time; after all we're the ones using it, nurturing it & (re)creating it. It's still a healthy way to learn, connect, grow and thrive, both individually and collectively. Let's keep it that way. 

(c) S R DHAIN (revised & updated).

The original version of this article was available via The American Chronicle publication & website.

What Is Art In Today's Digital Age?

A few years ago, I took a break from my creative endeavours, which included writing, programming & composing music, and spent the extra time on catching up with everything (and everyone) else. This involved a hefty amount of travel, which allowed me to reassess and re-evaluate many things in life. Especially my attitude to work, and the challenges that would present on a regular basis.

In essence, I was prone to a rendering of the workaholic’s dilemma; you do more & more, because in the back of the mind you're convinced that you're not doing enough. In effect, you're constantly stockpiling unfinished (and finished) ideas for a hypothetical ‘rainy day’ in the future. 

In the process, work seems to become everything in your life, and you're becoming increasingly detached from other important things and people;  family, friends and partners eventually become secondary to the workflow. It’s not healthy in my opinion, and I've learned to step back and take a balanced approach ever since.

Yet in all honesty, you don't actually take a complete break; there’s always some little creative “twiddling and fiddling” that you’re engaged in. But it's for fun, rather than the bottom line, which makes it the mental equivalent of a a palette cleanser. 

Toward the end of this much-needed sabbatical, an artist friend enthusiastically told me about an opportunity to submit photographs for inclusion in an art installation project. In effect, he was positive about the whole thing. 

Coincidentally, I went across town to catch up with another friend, and he owned a photographic studio. Before my arrival, he was snapping a four piece band, and he was rearranging things to clear the area. He took a break and showed me his workstation area, and I noticed that the entire rendering process was digital; all editing steps were done in software. Yet there was still a warmth and a natural quality to the finished pictures. The level of alteration available due to the plethora of  manipulation options, was remarkable. 

Now more than ever, the once sacred tools of creative alchemy and fusion are available in near infinitesimal abundance, and technology has spearheaded this development. Like most people, I´ve never hesitated to take pictures when feeling inspired, as technology allows you to do this at anytime and quite literally, anywhere. More importantly,   modern smartphones, with their built-in processing and photo sharing applications, as well as their higher quality picture resolution and rendering, allow instant feedback. Holidays are an obvious source of visual enlightenment, simply because you´re coming across a slew of new surroundings. You've got the potential to capture an abundance of new images, all to create happy memories and use in upcoming & current projects. 

We can now take thousands of pictures and not have to worry about rolls of film, or light conditions and aperture etc, because technology has made it much easier to literally point and click. This, to a degree, also extends to other technolgy-enhanced art outlets such as music, video and film too. You can literally "fix it in the mix" now, and start to work on things whilst recording. The easy availability of previously unimaginable memory sizes and lighting fast processing speeds, have allowed the rectification/corrective functionality in software ( i.e. the undo function), to go far beyond our everyday usage levels. 

So if the tools
available allow us to create hundreds and even thousands of takes of something to attain newer levels of near-perfection, then what does this mean for works of art? 

Perhaps now that we are closer to reaching an absolute apex in terms of A.I (artificial intelligence), and auto-assistive / corrective procedures when using technology, is there a growing hankering for a smidgeon of imperfection? This is not to be confused with malfunction, but is the recognisable flavour of a skew in the man-machine interface, which hints at an analogue or “real world” ad-hoc inconsistency. 

In terms of music, I can vouch for being more aurally pleased when I can hear some random warmth and movement here and there in a track or song. This can be anything from the slight but unavoidable drift of tuning in an electronic or organic instrument, to a voice that hasn't had the life and passion inherent in it, auto-corrected into a near-sterile facsimile of the original performance(s). I´m not alone in this and I've yet to see someone look mortified at a live concert where these little flecks of humanity in the performances, are part and parcel of the experience. 

In effect, art can be seen as human expression, with an emphasis on the qualities of being human. That is, the output is more organic and coming from our less than one hundred percent accurate selves. By nature, there is always something not quite perfect with our modes of expression; that's what gives us character and identity. More importantly, groups of us can relate to similar modes of expression, which feels natural and real.

As already mentioned, this isn't to be confused with a mistake, which is so off-track that it can be potentially ruinous to the end product. It's about leaving in enough of an emotive moment or set of emotive moments, which are akin to letting go of yourself somewhere. You're in control, whilst operating from a subconscious part of the thought process. 

Vocalists and guitarists are good examples of this; the warm-ups, the ad libs, the tricky guitar solos with daring note bends and the studio chat before, during and after a take, all encompass a swathe of humanity trying to go further and higher out of their comfort zones. Next time you're listening to an album, look out for things such as count-in's left on the tape (the ‘1, 2,3,4’ often heard at the beginning of a song) coughing , and the pre-roll snippets of conversion  , for evidence.

If you're a fan of the art, the artists and the processes, you'll find most of it to be enjoyable and fun. All things said, it’s not there to mess up the final product and has been left in out of an artistic choice; a human choice.

And it's that organic connection to the work which allows the artist to reach out further,  because he or she has allowed a part of themselves to be expressed that way, without eradicating those leaps into the unknown during the final edit.

So in today's digital age, good art can be thought of as leaving most of the original feeling and intention behind it (sometimes replete with a few warts and blemishes), into the final product. And technology has made it easier for everyone to create and put their work out in the world, leaving as much (or as little), of that human quality, as preferred.

And the individuals who shine (or at least stand out), are those who allow their personality to come through without removal of their unique blend of originality. Leaving in those sweet, smart and sly little idiosyncrasies, is all part of the charm. Leaving something of ourselves in the process of creating the work, is part of the art. As a consumer, this is what draws you in, even if it's at a level you may not consciously recognise. 

In the same vein, I edited this article myself. Not too much, but hopefully enough to make it a crisper and cleaner read. I pondered over some of the construction and syntax, but kept to most of my original intention and flavour in the final edit.  

Obviously, I’ve chosen to leave this bit of information at the end of the process; the irony isn’t lost on me. Like most people, I’m always striving to improve my work. But I’ll never be an anodyne and soullessly ultra-efficient automaton. I’m happier having the option of an opinion, which means I’ll be imperfect here and there. Our experiences are the bedrock of our creativity. They're like snapshots of so many moments in our lives and souls. This can spur us onto anything unique, from simple rhetorical jigsaws to complex sonic mosaics and visual masterpieces. 

In effect, we’re all works of art; constantly changing, reshaping and evolving, always trying to improve ourselves. Like unfinished works in progress, there are countless real-world interactive 'downloads' and updates to constantly process, analyse, accept and/or reject. We'll wash, rinse and repeat this, until we fade to grey. 

The important point, is that we can be paradoxically perfect in our imperfections And that's a fine and humanely wonderful thing to be.

(c), S R DHAIN, (revised & updated)

The original article was published on the American Chronicle website and publication.  

Thursday 7 April 2022

'Washing machine' Syndrome; Adding value or extraneous functionality?

As newer concepts and innovatory practices continue to stem outwards from the design labs and onto the marketplace, why is it that there are still a plethora of devices, both hard and soft, that are filled to the brim with multi-functionality? Are these extra options and functions useable and valuable? Or is it all 'gizmo-ing'?

I had to buy a new washing machine this year, to replace the sturdy workhorse that had finally given up the ghost after a decade of usage. It'd had two repair visits, one of which was under warranty. I ended up buying the same brand again, not out of ludditism, but more because I knew from prior experience (and web based research), that it delivered high-quality functionality, and this took precedence over form. This matters when choosing what is essentially a "white good" in our lives. But what is this 'syndrome' I´m referring to?

In effect, I´ve noticed on hundreds of occasions in the past, that when you look at a washing machine front panel, there are a swathe of buttons (and dial notches), offering combinations/permutations of wash, rinse and dry cycles for you to choose from. In actual use, however, I´m confident that I´m not alone in using less than a fifth of those, over the course of owning the machine. So why are all the extra options still there?

All washing machines are festooned with a myriad of wash, spin and dry many do YOU use?

It´s a relatively straightforward question but consider this: would you feel happier or more satisfied with owning the same machine if they wern't there? And it´s this level of rationale, which can explain why so much extra ‘gizmo-ing’, as I like to call it, is built into so many products on both a macro and micro level. In effect, it´s all about adding value to the main concept or design remit that the item purports to fulfil.

A classic example is the functionality on even the cheapest mp3 or music players. Nearly all of them have some sort of random/ shuffle option (some with sub-options), playlist features, and some kind of sound enhancement processing. However, as you go into the mid range in terms of pricing, you´ll find that some are now heading into the realms of becoming PDA´s (personal digital assistant type devices), with document reading/creation et al, all built into the same device. 

And to think, most people would buy the said device for mainly one purpose only, for which the marketing/ advertising budget has most likely been allocated. My theory here, can apply to anything; from steam irons to even electrical rechargeable razors. Next time you´re at an electrical retailer or even browsing an online e-tailer, have a look at the product range for your particular interest, and notice the increase in features designed into the product, as you go further up the price range.

Up to a point, the aforementioned theory steadfastly applies. However, I have noticed that in certain specialist markets, such as top end audio/ hi-fi, the feature set starts to follow an inversion of this rule; you pay more for less available options. It can be argued that in such instances, you´re paying for the privilege of potentially premium product quality and service delivery, and hence all the other gizmo-ing and dressage becomes surplus to requirements.

In essence, it could be argued that this applies to a number of premium price/ quality products in general. There is an exponential concept that comes into effect, with regards to features vs. price for that customer, because quality is very rarely (if indeed ever), sacrificed to bring the item to the marketplace at that price point. The idea being that these types of products do one thing far better than anyone else, so there isn't a specific need to add/ remove "extra" functionality at later dates, in the life cycle of the product. 

An aesthetically simple, yet bold and beautiful top end A/V entertainment system, any day of the year.

In effect, it could be argued that apart from adding value, the need to add far more bells and whistles than is necessary to a product, may potentially be disguising what may have been left out in the final production concept for budgetary reasons. This is evidenced by online firmware updates, which carry on into the first few years of the product. They add longevity and crystallise the user base too; all good for brand loyalty & future sales. 

This isn't as obtuse as it sounds, when you consider that some devices are great all-rounders, rather than the pinnacle of design and engineering. The aforementioned theory about top-end hi-fi, is a great illustrator of how less truly can be more. Or maybe it´s just to give the product some extra USP´s (unique selling points), when trying to position themselves as ‘the best game in town’?

It´s more likely a combination of both of these, together with manufacturers and designers appealing to our sense of looking for ‘marginal utility’, which is the economic concept of having extra of something and gauging the satisfaction derived as a result. 

In effect, if you feel you're getting a lot for your money, then you'll feel more eager to hand over the cash and buy the product. This was best exemplified in the 1980s when many home entertainment audio systems ( known as "tower" systems), would fulfil all remits you´d need in such a concept. They'd have record player, cassette tape player, an amplifier, a radio, speakers, and the components were all built into a stand with a glass panelled door. The glass itself would sometimes be darkly smoked, to give a chic & upmarket appearance. The whole ensemble looked great and served a useful function, insofar that minimal wiring was needed; you literally plugged in the speakers, then plugged into the mains and switched on to sweet music. The cabinet also protected the system, which had the appearance of separate components stacked on top of each other. As a result of all this clever design thinking, they shifted in huge numbers world wide. 

Since time immemorial, price is the key factor for most people when making a purchase decision and the washing machine syndrome may not be as important as it used to be. Potential buyers are better informed than before, due to the power and obvious ease of information dissemination via the internet.

It´s noticeable that even audio and media devices on the marketplace, have a cleaner and slicker appearance, with most functionality tucked away in the software, only to be revealed on power on or "boot up" of the device. Of course, this serves another important purpose. It aids the preventiing (or at least stalls), of reverse engineering; if a competitor is trying to grab your share of the market with a rival product, you wouldn't want them to be able to replicate all of your functionality with ease. 

Inarguably, as long as the consumer wants more value for their money, then manufacturers (& design teams), will continue to look for new and innovative ways to add extra functionality to all goods & services. And the key word here, is balance. Providing generous delivery of concept functionality at a high quality level, can be enough to negate the other need to add extra ‘gizmo-ing’, which was done to potentially pull in another newer sector of the customer base, who may not have previously considered that product or the brand. So getting it right once, can be like the gift that keeps on giving in that respect ,as people trust the brand and will be more willing to buy other products and services from them.

I'm very satisfied with my washing machine. Not only does it do what it says it should do and with a level of excellence, it also doesn't try to make my toast for me, or offer me a cup of tea. At least not yet.

(c) S R DHAIN (revised & updated)

The original article was available via The American Chronicle  publication & website

The Unpredictable Results Of Predictable Thinking.

For all our organising, scheduling, conceptualised formulae and systemic approaches, we sometimes don't quite get the results we're after.

In essence, not everything tends to go as planned.  John Lennon was famously quoted as saying that 'life is what happens to you whilst you're busy making other plans' . 

So in effect, there is something else going on whilst you're trying to figure out what you're going to do right now and in the future; like a cosmic 'please wait' process. And no matter what we do, we're at the mercy of 'that' as well. 

Think about that. 

On a basic level, it's the whole concept of living and co-exisiting, as well as working with other people. Even those of us who spend more time working alone ( I go through phases of that), still have connectivity to the world at large via a smartphone and an internet connection. 

Beyond that, it's what can be called fate, karma, luck, blessings and so on. Or 'force majeure' spread out to varying degrees, over a lifespan. 

I mention all of this as innovation is also subject to the same forces. 

Consider the evolution of technology in the last decade. More specifically, let's look at the development of smaller form technology, such as smartphones and tablets. 

Could anyone at Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Blackberry and many other companies whose names escape me right now, have imagined even seven years ago as to how big the customer/ user base for this technology would become? 

I'll hedge my bets and say no. 

At some point, all of the aforementioned companies have innovated. That is a risk. No matter how many pre release surveys you do and even with multi level UX/UI design teams feeding back into themselves and each other, it's a calculated gamble as to whether your product will take off and have a lifecycle which allows successive development. 

However, if any of these companies had played continually safe, then where would we be today? 


The innovator's mindset is about risk and failiure. Success is the end goal, for obvious reasons, but it's in the stumbles along the way that the real learning and growth take place. 

And it's bearing that in mind, that I always hope for someone somewhere to take a chance and not seem so predictable in their conceptualisation, in order to allow the alchemy of 'force majeure' to do its work even more effectively.

It could be someone like you or me. Or numbers of us, in teams. 

Maybe we're already doing that in a smaller way, by using the products on a regular basis, and then occasionally sharing our findings, tips and gripes on the internet & via social media. 

But more could be done. That requires trust. And that in itself could be a risk.  Risks carry costs, and the opportunity cost of taking each risk, is money saved for further R&D for newer products and/or profit margin.

Playing safe is necessary to earn a living. But playing safe doesn't create the husks of innovation that drive forward change and even create new industries, with the offshoots occasionally becoming bigger than the original idea. 

I'll be in the market for a new smartphone later this year. I'm hoping it'll have something quirky in the design. Refreshingly different, yet recognisable. Even the oddball and 'eh? What's that all about' handsets, would be worth investigating. 

Rightly or wrongly , they will make a handful of people sit up and take notice. And someone somewhere will carry the uniqueness forward, to create something else. That's progress, and that's innovation. 

The devil may be in the details, but there's also genius within the quirks & oddities; it can sometimes take longer to see the latter.  Then it's a question of following those up, in order to change and improve upon them or discarding the concepts, maybe keeping a few ideas for another round of creativity. It'd be nice to have a blend of both options, but I may be 
in a minority on that front. 

Here's to innovation and great design; both with or without the alchemy generated by the  unpredictable results, which stemmed from a predictable mode of thinking. 

Revised & Updated

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Emotional Intelligence - Our Technology Needs It With Care.

Many years ago when I had a hairstyle that needed a comb, my parents ran a manufacturing plant, and a wholesale front end was integrated into the building. It followed the usual arc of 3 or so years of hit and miss ( i.e. losses to break-even) income, which was subsidised by my father still holding his job down at an engineering plant. He'd finish his work at 5pm, and go into the business until late at night. I'd usually be asleep before they came home. 

The older generation had a work ethic that defies what my definition of hard work is, because they must have worked about 70 hours a week as a norm, with 90 hours seeming more likely. This isn't an exaggeration, as I can remember as a boy that they'd be out there 7 days a week to get the business going. They left home from 7am and came home as late as 11pm (sometimes later), so the maths aren't unrealistic.  I don't know how they did it in those years, either physically, mentally or emotionally.

Moving forward, the business eventually flourished and as the product line grew, so did the staff levels. At one point, they had 100 people on two floors making garments for them. Looking back, they never used 'in the field' sales people, but went out there to trade shows and customers themselves.  So they gradually had a slew of clients who were happy to travel or send couriers to pick up the goods from considerable distances. This included customers in foreign countries too.

A lot of this was down to the earlier days when I can remember going with my father in his ford transit van, doing the drop offs in various parts of the UK . It saved the customers money and helped  build a loyal customer base. The incentive for me, was a motorway cafe/service stop meal, and I'd help load & unload the van with him. My sister would occasionally make the trip, too. Looking back, they were fun times, even on the long cold winter nights driving up to scotland, sheffield and so on. 

Before I become too nostalgic, the issue here isn't necessarily a retrospective look at my family's business; they sold it on back in 2008 to a business partner who worked with them, and my father has since been retired.

The crux here is  about figuring out how they managed to deal with all the comings and goings of staff over the 26 years they were in business. I was with them for several of those years, and I found it fascinating to observe.

The answer is partially encapsulated in the emotional quotient that applies when dealing with people.

My mother had a very soft touch when dealing with everyone. On closer inspection however, (and of course this is all based on my personal recollection, so there may be an emotive quotient in the recalling of events), she was 'an iron fist in a velvet glove'. My father was more pragmatic, but yet naturally calm and polite.

In effect, the aforementioned backstory of a segment of my familial life, was to illustrate the prelude to a question :-

Are we building these emotive qualities into the technology of today and tomorrow? 

More specifically, if the software and hardware is embedding these qualities using the finest (and continually being refined ) coding and development processes, then what or whom (plural) is governing the sensibilities by which these facsimilies of our personalities are being replicated?

Consider all smart/ IOT technology today, and how it learns our habits, and essentially stores snapshots of our individual living and functioning styles. Ultimately, a slew of code and programming ( both nested and individual for different measurements and metrics) will analyse this data, and offer suggestions or even make decisions on our behalf. That's both refreshing, illuminating and also a little bit scary.

Why scary?

Because we're getting ever closer to approaching an apex as to where the synergy between man and machine is increasingly pronounced. The effect that will have in terms of our usefulness and sense of purpose as individuals,  and as collective, functional groups in society, is up for considerable change. 

From the basic premise of the person getting up early in the morning to go to work, to the server / waiter and barista who is eventually made redundant, to the uncertain existence of the corner shop and boutique store, there are issues of balance, together with a slew of limitations that haven't yet been fully addressed.

Not everyone will be able to perpetually upgrade to the next best electronic necessity; that's a lengthier and subjective topic for another time. And those that do, will have more time on their hands, which once you have savoured at length , (e.g:-  a lengthier vacaton or 'clock off' from the daily treadmill of life),  will ironically be spent figuring out what to do next. 

Time is the keyword here. We hanker for an abundance of it and yet too much free time potentially means constructive development towards a better now or future, or benign yet wasteful frippery. Hopefully it'll be a more towards the former, with a smidgeon of the latter. 

Ultimately only time will tell us as to how we deal with each successive intertwining round of technological innovation, coupled with human needs and wants. But it's not too early or too late to use our emotional intelligence to try and best govern how we can steer the ships of innovation towards a better future, rather than a more random and potentially chaotic future, which occured because all we did was chase the bottom line of more ( or extra) profit.

I'd rather we have a clearer idea of where we're going and a better future, because chasing the latter will mean more time spent fixing and reimagining what we didn't think or do with care 'back then' , in order to make that current time a brighter place. Profit isn't a dirty word, but it's not the only word when moving forward towards growth and innovation. Especially at a time where resource allocation and productivity, as well as production methods, cannot be as lasseiz-faire as they used to be. Accountability isn't a dirty word either.

We've already built the tools, the materials are there to harness and so is the manpower. All we need to do is make sure we add care and mindfulness in the processes, along each step of the way towards a brighter future.

Revised & Updated 

Tuesday 5 April 2022

Please Lord, Don’t Let The Album Die.

Music is now playing (and available), everywhere. From the lounge, to the hall, to the mall, to the lift, to our cars, and last but not least, out of our our smartphones into Bluetooth speakers or wireless headphones. This level of availability is great, cause we can all dip in and out of our collections or some archive somewhere in the electronic ether, as and when we want to. Invariably, this has changed the listening experience forever. 

Does listening to an album of music still have some meaning attached to it? And will the album survive? 

On the way into town, I walked past a girl at a bus stop who was singing along to something on her smartphone . Nothing unusual in that, but I actually slowed down as I walked past her and stopped for a few seconds, because it dawned on me that she was singing along in an "auto tune" style. I couldn´t place the song, but I wondered whether she was singing along in emulation of the actual song, or whether she was just putting that on as an effect, in order to make it totally her own and put her personal stamp of approval on it. 

I´ve got over 500 c.d.´s, which should actually be closer to 700, but over the last 20 or so years, I´ve had people borrow them and not return them.  Of course, some of them have broken, become damaged or been mislaid and weren´t replaced for whatever reason. Other than make my c.d. rack sound like some kind of warzone ( it isn´t, I promise you), I also have over 300 slabs of vinyl in 7 and 12 inch form. 

Why am I sharing this? Well, it dawned on me that each time I go to the gym, I must be a bit of a luddite, insofar that I end up listening to a lot of albums in 'as originally intended' track listing order from my smartphone, whilst working out. And maybe I'll skip an occasional track, depending on the energy of the session . Does anyone else do this or something approximately like this ? 

No, Not the 'going to the gym' part, which is a long, relatively pleasant drive there and back. What I mean is, does anyone else still listen to an album worth of music as the artist intended it to be heard?
Some of my CD collection. There are currently over 100 or so that are "missing in action" ( i.e. borrowed and not returned, misplaced, etc)

Naturally, I do this in the car as well. Obviously, one has the same option of skipping tracks with CD'
s & downloaded albums, but my point remains the same; I don't think so many people bother with the album 'experience' anymore.

Recently, I saw Johnny Marr in a snippet of a documentary called LAST SHOP STANDING on YouTube, talk about how an album is an experience in itself. For those who don´t know who he is, Johnny Marr is one of the greatest guitar players to have come out of the UK in the last 30 years (have a search on the internet for further details), with a multi-faceted career. In effect, he made a very valid point, in that an album has a start and a finish & is effectively a body of collective work. 

This was more applicable in the days of vinyl, where you had no choice but to flip the disc over after approximately 22 minutes ( or less), in order to listen to the rest of the songs and conclude that body of work, as a listening experience.

Furthermore, you'd repeat the aforementioned if it was a double, triple or even quadruple album. In effect, your attention span, the ability to concentrate and your resultant enjoyment would be based in and around this style of listening experience.

 Some prefer the sound of a vinyl album to a CD. Nonetheless,  the intent is the same; you're embarking on a sonic journey. 

Now that music has become so transient, it follows suit that we can literally press a button on our smartphones and instantly grab a slice of aural goodness whenever we want it. This is literally irrespective of time, day, location and more importantly,  the album or genre it's originated from. 

Some might say that´s a great choice to have and up to a point, I agree. Those moments when you're waiting for a plane, bus or train, or you're stuck in a long queue for something else, now mean that all you need to do is stick a pair of headphones on. You can now soothe (or gently sway) away some of those minutes in waiting , with a quick blast of your favourite track(s). 

This level of listening freedom also extends to everyone being able to make their own playlists, which wasn´t uncommon in the days of cassette, portable CD player and mini-disc. However, as there are no similarly immediate physical storage issues and limitations (e.g. extra costs of the storage medium, limits on running times & the physical bulk),  then umpteen playlists can be made within minutes of each other, which more importantly can also be shared en masse over the internet, using the various social media tools available. 

it´s the availability of complete freedom to chop and change, which I feel has taken away from the importance of an album, as it used to exist. There's simply no hard-wired consumer stipulation, to keep it as it was originally pressed, burned & track-listed. 

The album as a product, has little to do with an artist exercising any kind of alleged pseudo-dictatorship over the consumer. I.e the cynical. 'I'm putting out a body of work,  and you'll buy it even if it isn't choc full of music you'll like and grow to love' routine. 

Even for arguments sake that wouldn't work anymore, as consumers are more well informed & can listen to most (if not all), of the album before buying it,  via the various social media portals. 

Bearing all the above in mind, why does an album exist?

In effect, it's about giving the listener an extended experience that they can savour (and cherish), more fully. It's akin to taking a long trip or journey into the artist's thoughts & feelings at that period of time, whilst looking for (or picking up on), correlations into your own state of being.  

And that's why I still buy albums on physical CD and download formats, simply because I want to get into the whole 'arc', so to speak, that the artist intended for me to listen to his/her/their work in. On a personal note, this also extends to artwork & packaging design, but that's a different conversation for another time. 

It goes without saying that the record label ( if one is involved), may have had something to do with the track choice, artwork/photography selection and even the producer (i.e. the finished product & its marketing), but I cant imagine listening to Oasis ´ 'Definitely Maybe', for example, on random or shuffle play the first and every successive time I listened to it. And I cannot ever imagine listening to Brian Eno´s 'Music For Airports' on shuffle either.  Although some may argue that it would be a good idea, i'd find it defeatist and almost sacrilegious, in terms of retaining the artistic merit of the work, as it was intended to be presented 

And yet there is an entire generation, whom for various reasons will pick & choose their favourites and download them from various albums (or even just one album), as they want/need that full flexibility to listen to their own playlists, all the time. I'm just not one of them, although as mentioned earlier, I may skip the occasional track. 

I´d rather buy the album and listen to it in the order in which it was arranged on the final released product, because I think (or at least i'd rather believe),  that the artist(s) involved wanted it that way. 

It may not cure any illnesses or ailments, it may not fix the world´s ills and socio-economic problems, but some things are best to be left 'as is'. It´s almost the equivalent of viewing a monet or mona lisa via looking at snippets of them to get an idea of what was going on in the concepts,  as well as having access to the complete pictures themsleves and making your own versions. That renders the whole thing into a makeshift sliding puzzle ;why would you want to do that to a finished piece of art? 
Listening to an album in full sequence, as the artist intended, can be like taking an audio journey that represents the artistic intention behind the work.

Maybe I´m in a minority who feels that the musician should always have the opportunity to present a fuller, richer experience to the listener, so that the listener has a greater ( and relatable) idea of the vision behind the product. 

Because if the same musician isn't going to have the reciprocation of that, which can be evidenced by a lack of album sales ( I'm not including the loss of sales due to piracy and illegal downloading, as that's an entirely different issue altogether), then why bother to compile several songs for an album? Is it solely to propel sales for yet another tour? 

Surely not, as groups such as The Rolling Stones have proved for countless years that you can tour without releasing a new batch of songs each time. Furthermore, established artists seldom play every selection off a new album in concert, as its usually the hits and favourites that get first dibs. 

The album is, in my humble opinion, like a sonic book. It's a musical series of chapters of intent, bound together as a cohesive, sequential whole. 

And as already mentioned, It´s akin to a collection of aural snapshots of the artist(s) life/lives at that point in time. That´s a reassuringly human thing to have in this technology-driven world we're living in.

And that's what makes it essential. Music is a universal language that negates so many social barriers and boundaries. You might not always speak the language being sung, but you just know what the intention is, by the feelings evoked in the tracks themselves

Even when listening on headphones, you're taken somewhere else, to a place that is usually easier to feel than describe; now that's powerful. And the cover art, with the inner sleeve booklet(s) with lyrics and's all part of the picture. 

I hope the album survives as a format, for as long as possible. It's already been around for over 70 years,  and countless collections of albums show up at auctions, as historical artefacts. That's a snapshot of artistic lives, lived within the context of another human life that cherished them.

Wouldn't you want a collection of albums to be part of your life's story?  

(c)  S R DHAIN (revised & updated)

The original article was available via The American Chronicles website 

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Monday 4 April 2022

The Peter Principle: Is Failing Upwards Still Feasible?

The Peter principle,  so named after Lawrence J. Peter, is directly adherant to the concept of 'failing upwards'. 

It works on the premise that in a working environment, you're promoted due to outstanding performance in one particular area within a group or function; ergo, you've been sent further up into the organisational structure, with a commensurate salary increase & other benefits. But you've actually been put into a new position where you'll restfully spend the remainder of your tenure growing into a blissful state of benign incompetence. 

In effect, you're now in a position that doesn't necessarily reflect your best attributes within your skillset. It's akin to a brilliant footballer being pushed to become a manager, without having the full gamut of people skills to do the job properly. At best, it's a misstep.  At worst, it's the end of the road.

So why does this happen?

There could be a multitude of reasons, and sometimes it involves a variety of subtexts.  For example, the promotion of Jean or John into the realms of middle management, so that the rest of the team can have the scope to work harder and prove themselves. Or the current manager not wanting to leave their comfortable niche which Jean or John could be better suited to, so promoting them into a no-man's land role instead to save one's own seat.  But that's not the primary rationale here.

In effect, the assumption made is that we're great at doing something until we've reached the pinnacle of that skillset. Beyond that, we'll become less effective, because our motivations and drivers to reach that peak or summit have now disappeared or been satiated with more money & a (sometimes perceived) greater sense of power. As a result, ennui will start to set in due to the cosy and warm, 'slippers-by-the-fire' feeling of having made it to the highest level of achievement. 

And unless we're absolutely terrible at the role, we'll be stuck there for a long time (the 'no-man's land' scenario). Wealthier, mildly happier (subjectively; it depends upon the length of time & psychological drivers), and yet not as brilliant (or outstanding), as we once were, or perceived to be. 

But is it really that simple?

No. Think of a multitude of careers where you've seen growth and adaptability go together more synchronistically. For example, the studio tea person, who has worked their way up to become a producer and even become an owner of their own recording facility.  

Of course there are pitfalls. The noticeable things causing ennui here, are excessive hearing loss & a slowdown in physical & cognitive abilities. Nonetheless, it could be argued that it's a heart-lead business & a recording studio can be an intense and challenging workplace due to ever changing external situations ( e.g. technological advances), and the unpredictable nature of the clientele & the business model(s) utilised. All the aforementioned help prevent the Peter Principle from taking flight. 

Market forces also play a role here (a lack of artists or projects to record, for instance), but there's still a smaller liklihood of failing upwards, as it's likely to be driven by a greater personal investment on every level.  I say this, as I've seen studios keep on running, with their owners reducing rates and diversifying into other areas (e.g. voiceovers, adverts, jingles ,etc), in order to keep the company (and their dream job), alive. 

This isn't uncommon.  Owners of businesses tend to slog at it for longer than their employees as there is a sunk cost for them, which isn't shared in full by anyone else.  This can also give rise to the sunk cost fallacy effect, too. 

On a tangent, getting fired whilst at one company, can sometimes drive people to pursue something completely different and make good in that direction, too. Many entrepreneurs (history is abundant with them, and the internet can help you find some), have started new careers this way.

Alternatively, some people may start at the bottom of an organisation and work their way to the middle, then move between departments and eventually reach board level. They then take voluntary retirement ( or semi-retirement) and set up an independent organisation, which is the culmination of all the skills they've learned and refined over the years at the aforementioned organisation. That's not failing upwards, but is taking a chance in the same pond, but from a different seat by the river. 

The other examples of the Peter Principle not working, is within other creative media fields. Actors, Musicians, Painters and Directors, for instance, aren't encumbered by this, simply because of the more open-ended nature of their professions. The level of chance and inconsistency built into their working lives ensures that it's more difficult for 'failing upwards' to occur here. In effect, you have to keep practicing your craft(s) and honing your skillset(s) for the entire duration of your working life. 

And some actors have turned into successful producers and/or directors, which supports the aforementioned position. You're essentially working from scratch per project, as even with the same technicians & crew, some of the other incumbents (actors,  writers, music and f/x departments, for instance), will have changed. So even if you know what you're doing, you still don't know exactly what to do or how to go about it.

The aforementioned also goes some way to explaining why creativity based workplaces pay so well. The advertising & marketing industries/ businesses are also prime examples of a constant need & reliance upon heavy-duty creative thinking; the end result of a successful implementation of work projects here, can be remarkably lucrative. 

Where the Peter Principle can apply, is in areas of linear, structured work environments. The thinking being that if you're not required to do something that consistently pushes you to think creatively to find solutions in your work, you'll eventually peak & then stagnate . The emphasis isn't on doing this all the time,  but some of the time; no one's going to be required to be continuously innovative & original, every day of the week. 

In essence, prevention is better than cure. And to that end, the involvement of technology in our everyday lives, at work, rest & play, keeps us all on our toes to a healthy extent.  Even the Jean or John who's sat at a dozen senior management meetings struggling to keep awake during half of them, is pushed to stay abreast of software & hardware developments, in order to prevent being left behind or even be overtaken by subordinates who are quicker to adapt, adjust & innovate with technology. Newer staff may be better versed in interoperability and smoother cross- platform integration & workflow, but that's due to using these technologies on a regular basis before entering the corporate environment.  

To conclude, the solution lies in identifying core competencies at regular intervals, and adapting or changing the work given to that individual,  according to the results of the review. Furthermore,  training & upskilling can be offered (or recommended) to keep the individual within the organisation,  yet able to move around departments with less stress. But that's an ideal solution. And we live in a working world, where textbook type solutions can't be adhered to all the time or even at all. 

Nonetheless,  if we're quicker to identify strengths, and can work to improve (or at least work around) weaknesses, then we can remain more sure-footed in our work. And in our rapidly moving technology laden world, the work environment will change to follow suit, or become anachronistic. Automation can take a lot of the pragmatic/systemic processes out of the equation, leaving us to deal with the creative, innovative and more unpredictable aspects. 

Focusing on creativity can (and likely will), eventually lead to many more self-employed people. That's a good thing in many ways, because there's zero ability to hide behind the large, corporate veneer of a successful organisation; you'll literally only have yourself to thank or blame for the success or failiure of your career. The current pandemic has created an influx of remote working situations. Digital nomads also fit the aforementioned bill. 

Not being able to fail upwards will eventually become more difficult as assessment & accountability become a more regular scenario. Again, the use of technology (e.g. zoom based reviews with continual improvements in metrics & analytics for performance),  will facilitate this. 

As already discussed, our current work environment makes it more difficult to pass the buck. The pandemic and it's side effect of lengthier online working (and co-working) environments has put paid to that. Whilst it's been stressful at times, as it can strangely feel more unintentionally intimate due to everyone being in their own comfort zones at home during working hours, it's a stepping stone to prevent the wrong people going up the corporate ladder, and staying there until they become a part of the furniture. That makes it more difficult for the Peter Principle to take effect. 

And that means that no one can rot at the top, forever. Amen to that. 

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