I went along to #brewcamp last night in Walsall. It was lovely, I got to hear about the amazing open spaces and wildlife in and around Walsall from Morgan Bowers and Mark Blackstock's story of growing a local aggregator which confirming that people come back to places that send them away.
As this was a local government focused group (although it nicely blurs the boundaries with lots of others involved) I took along a copy of Local Government to show. Thinking about it this morning, I realised how much of the success of the evening was down to mediation through social objects.
Social Object #1 – The event itself: #brewcamp was inspired by #teacamp which in turn came out of Jeremy Gould's experience of attending #tuttle – which demonstrates the self-propagating nature of social objects (people experience one and think "I could do that") and the inheritance of properties (the mix of non-alcoholic beverages, chat and informal learning).
Social Object #2 – the venue – Starbucks helps people connect, whether it's in agreement or disagreement over the standard of the coffee, it also provides some familiarity through consistent branding and decoration, though of course I chose to subvert that later on. It's important to recognise that different people connect differently through a social object. Social Object owners often think/wish they can control or heavily influence what that connection is. Nuh-huh. I have to also say that the baristas in that store were great, helpful, they stayed open late specially for us *and* allowed me to hack the space.
Social Object #3 – talks without powerpoint – taking away the visual aid forces the talk and the talkers to be the social object rather than the bullet-points on the wall – speech on its own seems to be a more conductive social object than speech+visual aid.
Social Object #4 – the film – is the obvious one, I wrote a bit about what I'm trying to do here. We're well practiced in watching a film and talking (before, during and) after it. What I also noticed was what people tweeted about it while it was showing and the pictures that turned up on twitter and how the conversation drifted on afterwards.
Social Object #5 – the projector – I've borrowed the Time/Image pico projector to do this. A few people were just interested in the kit. It's a PK301 from Optoma and costs about £250. It's not the cheapest but it works really well and simply and it really is not much bigger than a couple of iPhones strapped together.
Social Object #6 – hacking the space – the act of appropriating a bit of a Starbucks, getting them to turn some of the lights off and turning it into a pop-up cinema is a social object in itself. It's not just the film that people have gone away talking about, it's the thing I did, the combination of it all, the idea of showing a movie to a small group of people that isn't about booking a big cinema and isn't about having people crowd around a computer screen. It's one I want to repeat over and over. I love doing it and look forward to seeing how it'll work in other places.
Social Object #7 – curry afterwards – how can you do an event in the West Midlands without it?
Can you see any more?
I'm unfixing my abode and going up to Birmingham and its environs for a few days, I have some potential for retreat in Oxfordshire later in the month and I'm cat-sitting in Wood Green in a couple of weeks (oh the glamour!) but otherwise freewheeling.
I'm always up for chats, tea, coffee, idling etc. I love talking at length to an audience about what I do, also ask about underground archive film screenings and face-to-face work.
The way it works is you need to nab my time, don't wait for me to be coming near you. If you call, I will come (AM&OSKE*). Maybe not immediately and sometimes more quickly if you wave a wad of notes under my nose or can sort travel and accommodation expenses, but really, say now and we'll pencil something in.
(*Axe-murderers and other serial killers excluded, sorry)
This. Over and over and over.
Knowing that I would be a grown-up in the 21st Century was very exciting. The jury's still out on how exciting it actually is. However I think if it's more exciting it's going to be for different reasons than I'd thought.
I doubt that we're going to find that Martian Mysterons actually have a base on our Moon and that we'll be at inter-planetary war with them by 2067 and I hope not to be proved wrong.
Oh to be indestructable. Oh to be able to do the most dangerous of things, to shoot guns, to climb up to the tallest of tall buildings and to slip and fall and still be OK. Oh to live and work in Cloudbase. Oh to hang out with girl pilots called the Angels. Oh to sound a bit like Cary Grant.
"Well, we just show up every day and let it emerge, encourage things we like, let things we don't like just die away."
"So how can I help you keep doing the same thing but design some elements to make it even better?"
"Well you'd have to show up every day and encourage the things you like and let the things you don't like just die away."
"Yeah, but what's the process we could use?"
"Um… 1. Show up every day. 2. Encourage the things you like. 3. Let the things you don't like just die away."
"Well in my 30 years of corporate experience that hasn't worked"
This is the sort of scene that made me want to be able to sing well. I loved to hear guys like Allan Jones who made this big voice while singing soft songs – the link is that he got started in a couple of Marx brothers films, much of my childhood Sunday afternoons involved soaking up black and white movies. Girls loved this stuff. If you want women to fall madly in love with you (and of course you do), then learn to sing. And let them drive you around in a car, while they wear ridiculous headgear and your voice cuts through the fact that you're in a open-top sports car while singing the soppiest of songs. And they grin at you and you've got it made. That's the message I took anyway.
Also there was always a snigger in our house because my father's best man was called Alan Jones (with one 'l') so y'know "ha ha it's Alan Jones!".
Didn't know till I looked him up that he was Jack Jones's father.
PS I could have sworn I did an audioboo of this song at some point in the last couple of years, but I can't find it anywhere… boo.
Do you remember your first ROFL? yeah, me too, it was this. Hysterical.
I'm giggling even now and I haven't watched it for two or three days.
These guys gave me a love of punnage and clever use of language. Also a deep suspicion of lawyers and anyone who wants you to sign a piece of paper before they'll let you do something.
Re-reading that bit from the Space Hijackers that I pointed to in the previous post, I kept coming back to this:"If you’re a local council, selling off land to private developers is an easy way to raise capital. But the undermining of social liberties that comes with these sales is unprecedented. Take the construction of the Olympic village in Stratford for example. It’s an entirely privately owned complex. Although there will be public space, shops and entertainment, there will also be robotic CCTV drones monitoring everyone coming and going – thousands of cameras watching your every move, a ban on begging, busking, skateboarding, hoodies, public assembly, protest, loitering and much much more. Everything that makes our city so vibrant is drained out of the space and replaced with a 2D image of a city. Unless you're shopping you're not welcome."
and how the same thing is happening to the web, the privatisation of *our* data, the recording of our exhaust trails, the move from a place where conversation happens and interesting things are born to being just another passive, entertainment and shopping channel.
I was loitering around MORE London the other day and was struck by the contrast in foyer space between Ernst & Young and pwc. (Btw yes pwc is PricewaterhouseCoopers ie PwC but their new logo doesn't reflect the idiosyncratic capitalisation that we know and love them for. I do hope it's not on the way out, it seems to be alive and well in copy across their site)
Anyway, this is what I saw (they're only short…):
oh and then I went round the corner and shot this of the "front" of pwc:
Now I should point out that what I was doing here is very very naughty indeed. MORE London is private property and both loitering and photography are among many things that are severely frowned upon. However, I'm a wild-eyed rebel at heart (as y'know) and I just don't care!
The first one is Ernst & Young – it's too short really to get a feel, but basically it looks more like a media company with big screens pouring INFORMATION out all over you as you sit in reception waiting to see your tax accountant.
Over the street, is pwc.
Well it's not really a street is it? It's a private paved thoroughfare leading from Tooley Street to City Hall. The mayor's testicle is at one end, so what does that make The Shard? Oh and it has a little miniaturised (and highly sanitised) open sewer running along the middle of it to remind you of the history of the Thames. Now I think about it though, I think the water's running away from the river, I'll have to go back and check, but that would be no good, a sewer that ran *into* the populated areas? yikes!
Anyway, back to the offices. When I've walked past before now, I didn't realise that the downstairs bit of pwc was corporate space at all, it's just rows of sofas like you might find in a hotel lobby. The slightly brighter though warm lighting is the clue though. This isn't a place to slop and read a book or have a quiet cup of tea, it's a place where Work goes on, just the gentler, cosier, friendlier Work than the bright bright white-light WORK that goes on in the little rooms on the first floor just above.
What's going on here? Is the firm saying "Look at us, we know how to work hard and work soft!" "We're not grey heartless accountants, we can kick back and relax on comfy chairs with the best of them – and we're not afraid of you seeing that, in fact we're going to make it the first thing you see when you get out of your cab and walk round to see us." "But don't worry, we do work really really hard, we do serious stuff, wearing suits, with whiteboards and flipcharts and everything, upstairs". Or what?
And what does it feel like to work in a place like this? What's it like to have meetings in these areas? What's it like to talk? Is it always this empty (this was just before 5.30 on a Thursday so I guess most "meeting" work would be over by then, everyone's back at their desk e-mailing madly before the pub).
Overall, I'm interested in whether the inspiration for this comes from "new ways of working" thinking or "new ways of marketing" – is it about the staff or the image? I'm coming down on the side of it being a shop window, but if so, what are they really selling?
Oh and can someone please find me some Evil Empire music to go with the last clip (probably with some crows cawing, maidens screaming and maniacal evil laughter in the background)
I showed this clip at the beginning of my recent show/talk at Hub Westminster. I've since watched this episode all the way through, it still thrills me. Is this what watching @ProfBrianCox does for people these days? I hope so.
There's a few things to say about it.
1. I love the subtitle: "An alternative view of change" That was one of the things that grabbed me as a pre-teen watching on TV: "You can have a view of change? You mean you think about it, turn it over, make a whole TV programme about it, spend your life talking about how things change? Wow!"
2. It's chilling that the first sequence takes place at the base of the WTC and then a lift that goes all the way to the top. He talks about exactly the trap that people found themselves in on 9/11. Conspiracy theorists of course love the fact that he further illustrates the story with SAS Flight 911.
3. The assumptions he makes about what's in the room around you – you must be watching this on a TV right? You have a phone in the room? Well probably, but the phone(s) I have in the room are not the phone he was talking about.r
4. When this episode ended, you had to wait for a week for the next one, and you'd have to make sure you were at home to see it and that you remembered it was on, there was no catch-up or iPlayer, certainly no realtime pause and rewind, no way you could watch it on any other device than the television in your living room right there and then. I'm pretty sure we didn't have a VCR at that point so couldn't rewind and watch it again later that evening.
5. This stuff really should be available to people freely and in high-quality, nrot in 10 minute lo-fi chunks. And we should be talking about it and what it means and what we might do differently, and the extent to which the changes of the last 25-30 years have vindicated this "alternative view of change"
This batch is not ready to go online yet, but lots will be, soon, I'm promised, there's going to be an official launch thingy and everything. However, I've been threatening to take some of these out on the road for a while to show to people offline, in someone's front room, or a church hall or something. In particular I'm keen to take movies back and show them in the communities in which they were filmed. And while they'll be up on YouTube and everyone will be able to watch them on their own, I'd really like to see how they play to a larger audience, especially when that audience is encouraged to talk about the films together afterwards.
So I wrote a list of what I want to do in showing these films and it came out like this:
- reconnect people with something they've lost;
- get people involved in documenting them;
- share my addiction, get people as excited about seeing and sharing the films as I am;
- get people thinking about what they have now, what they keep, what they digitise;
- get people thinking a out what culture means and how copyright works or doesn't work for us
which is a lot more than I thought there was when I started writing the list, it seems quite worthwhile…
Take a look at the Time/Image Wiki to see the range of films in the archive and find links to those that are already online. Have a look. Let me know if you're up for a guerilla screening where you live.
Photo Credit: Still from 'London 1942' – Taken from 'Films of Britain 1946'