Tag Archives: bromsgrove

The Vital Importance of Being Earnest

Earnest2

This from the Bromsgrove Messenger in December 1982, I guess. I do mostly remember this production for the thing the reviewer picked up where we repeated 14 pages of the first act because we got lost. I’m pretty sure I was hamming it up appallingly, and I probably was doing a lot of “face acting” but it seems to have gone down well.

I think it was during rehearsals for this that I had a meeting with the headmaster, who tried to drive any silly ideas about working in theatre out of my little head. “Much better to keep these sorts of things as a hobby.”

Here we all are:
Earnest1

[bds]Last few hours, what happens next?

I started writing something about what happens if I don’t hit the target or what happens if I exceed the target and it just felt all wrong.

The first one particularly felt like:

  • introducing some sort of fake jeopardy to induce people to part with cash;
  • writing a risk register (*shudder*);
  • just a lie really because I know and you know (if you know me well enough) that I only ever do things that I’d do even if it didn’t raise any money at all and that half the fun is making do with what you’ve got instead of throwing money at problems to make them go away.

So it’s going to happen whatever, but I will be able to spend more time on this project if the pot is fatter and less time if it’s slimmer – simples.

So go ahead, make it fatter

The one thing I do want to avoid is having a conversation with someone that goes “Oh what a shame you didn’t come last month, I had a load of old film that I didn’t know what to do with, so I chucked it out.”  So I’m going to get on with this thing as quickly as I can with whatever resources I have.

Today I’ve purchased digitalshoebox.org.uk it points to the campaign page for now, tomorrow it will become the real home of the project!

[bds] Bromsgrove’s just the beginning. Thanks @MMaryMcKenna!

I’m working on a digitised archive for Bromsgrove (last 48 hrs of crowdfunding) first because it’s a space and time that I have some knowledge of, I know the geography, I know some of the people who were there, I have stories of my own to tell.

But as much value as I think is there (and I think there’s loads) I’m just as interested in this as a learning project that can be replicated in other places.  One of the attractions of Bromsgrove is that there’s very little notable about it.  Until you start to dig…  It’s nowhere special (for that value of special that we’ve developed during the last 100 years) but everywhere is special, everywhere has interesting stories to tell, it’s just more obvious to me what they are for this case.

So what about applying it in more conventionally “interesting” places? One of the most idea-sparking conversations I’ve had about possible next steps (always remembering that we haven’t done the first one yet!) came up yesterday at #altukgc13.  I was talking about the importance of standing up for our own home-made media to tell a fuller story than mass media can and Mary McKenna pointed out that while the BBC has loads of archive material about Northern Ireland in the 1970s it’s completely dominated by stuff about the Troubles.  And this might be a really neat way of telling more rounded stories about life beyond the ethno-political struggles and violence.

Oh yes.  I like that a lot.  We’ll do that.

[bds] It’s about us not about them

Another important idea in this project is looking at how popular culture really played out from the point of view of ordinary people, rather than from those making mass media.  I’ve come to believe that we need to start telling our own stories in our own ways about our own lives, rather than relying on the established media to rehash itself.

I’m thinking mostly of television programmes that purport to tell us what life was like in the Seventies by stringing together clips of television programmes made in the Seventies.

There are two problems with this approach:

1. That by condensing material made for a mass medium all you’re doing is reinforcing an already partial view of society and what we were like.

2. That it is subject to censorship for reasons of political sensitivity (no more TOTP if it contains footage of Jimmy Savile) or the complexity of gaining licensing rights.

3. We all, legitimately, have our own view of what happened in the past and none of us know the whole truth.

My belief is that television was no more representative of what was really happening then than it is now.  Except now we can make and share our own media cheaply and easily and then it was hard and expensive.

I’m not just interested in collecting and sharing  this material because of the nostalgic fuzz, as delightful as that can be.

This project is also about allowing us to say: “This is how we were, we had a life and a point of view that was influenced by dominant pop cultures and media but was also something we made ourselves.”

Go on, chuck something in the pot.

[bds] Why not just use Facebook?

[meta advisory – for regular readers of this blog, you’ll notice that the title is prefaced with the tag: bds for Bromsgrove Digital Shoebox.  I will likely be writing about this quite a bit over the next few months and I’ll try to remember to tag the titles so that you can make a better informed decision about whether to read on or not – the project will no doubt have a blog of its own before long, but till then the best place to see what’s really happening is the crowdfunding page]

I’m committed in this project to make as much as possible available via the open web, rather than via corporate service offers like Facebook – yes you can share anything you like and connect to people very smoothly, but there are a few costs on the user side that aren’t immediately obvious and I’d like to avoid them.

I’m not totally anti-Facebook – for many things I find their (free) service very useful and you’ll see that I’m using it a lot to get word out about the project.  It’s just easy to forget that there’s a downside and I think the downside is too big for projects like this, in these particular ways:

1. Ownership, Authority, Access.

It’s your material and you will have the right to share it however you want.  In an archive environment though, there needs to be some independent authority for resolving disputes and making  decisions about things.  That authority doesn’t have to be centralised, it can be distributed between members of the community, as it is for Wikipedia.

This openness will at some point bump up against concerns about personal privacy, but we will start with an assumption that everything will be open and free and only close down in response to real concerns not ones that we can imagine in the abstract.

I also don’t want access to our memories and digital assets to be subject to the continuing existence or shifting priorities of a publicly-owned corporation based in California.

2. Not everyone is on Facebook

We all know this to be true, but it’s easy to fall back into thinking that “loads of people, at least more people than I can keep track of” is a good proxy for “everyone”.  And if you’re not on Facebook, if you choose for whatever reason, not to join in, then you’re excluded from the fun that goes on around old photos.

So people can share stuff about you without you knowing.  In fact this can happen even if you’re on Facebook, but the person who “owns” the picture isn’t connected with you.

I want to create something that is at least available to anyone with an internet connection (and actually to a whole lot of the people who don’t too, but that’s another story)

3. Interoperability & Extensibility

It is in Facebook’s interest to keep you on Facebook where you might see and click on an advertisement that will ultimately bring them revenue, or keep you creating new content to keep other people on Facebook where they might see and click… etc.

I’m looking to create something that you can use however you wish.  I want to create a platform for you to do new things, for you to extend and improve what we have, without damaging the experience for others.  That means being able to link to things from anywhere, to be able to include and embed material wherever you like.  it also means creating feeds that you can subscribe to so that you’re alerted when new material is found/uploaded.

These aren’t just my prejudices, they’re based on the NEA principle – ie build things that (N)obody owns; (E)veryone can use; and (A)nyone can improve.  It will be a key guiding principle and differentiating characteristic for this project.

Perhaps there’s time to learn to walk first

Thank you everyone who commented on the previous post – wow!

This reminds me very much of what happened when I wrote my original Social Media Cafe post – I had an idea, I fleshed it out a little and then people went and took it seriously :) Which of course, in truth, was my intention, but I still cling to a little English self-deprecation and false modesty.

I also feel the need to remind newcomers here, that I consider this blog to simply be my thinking ground, this is where I get to understand what I think and why – that’s why I write. Then it’s great also to hear what others think of what I think, because it helps me clarify that through conversation. You may think me mad or a pointless dilletante. There’ll be reasons for that.

I also want to let you know that I am comfortable holding the apparent paradox that I am both entirely committed to following through on this *and* consider it a thought experiment and social art object.

I had some good chats about this at Tuttle today too, it certainly seems to have caught some people’s imagination. The question now is what to do about it.

I think I need to explain some other things more.

Firstly, let’s be clear, there is no election currently being held that I’m interested in standing at. After I posted yesterday (and doubtless as a direct result) Julie Kirkbride announced that she would not be standing at the next general election, but that could still be quite some time off yet.

I believe that if an election were called tomorrow, and if I could garner enough financial support to cover my deposit and living expenses for the three weeks or so until the vote, I would stand, if only for the experience of doing it – I may start a fighting fund for just this purpose.

However it is unlikely that Gordon will go to the country so soon and so I’m asked what I’ll do in the meantime.

We’ll see. I’m not in a position to put all of my time and energy into building a base in any particular constituency. I am not, today even sure of where I might stand, I need to think about where I really feel I could be of most service.

What is clear to me is that the three themes that I’m interested in exploring are Service, Representation and Governance. What does it mean to serve a community, how can one person best serve several thousand at a national level? Who do MPs represent and how does it really work, how could it work? If they are there to represent the interests of their constituency why do so few people feel represented or feel inspired enough to turn out to vote? And what does governing a country mean? How do you “run” a country? Is there room to start running it in the way that large swathes of the internet are “run” on a far more decentralised and libertarian (with a small ‘l’) basis?

The party question is an interesting one. Many people have said something like “if you want to get elected, why not join a big party, you have much more chance that way” to which my response is that the overall purpose of this is not to win a seat at any cost. But in that case, why would anyone vote for me, don’t we vote for the person we think has a good chance of winning or else for someone who represents a party that we’d like to see forming a government? Well, yes, we do but that doesn’t mean it always has to be like that or that it has to be like that for every constituency. And anyway this sounds like the people who said, “why would anyone want to go to your social media cafe?” which elicited a “well if
you don’t know I can’t tell you” kind of response from me. It turns out

And another thing. What do you do with supporters who aren’t voters? There are some lovely people who’ve said, I can’t vote for you, but I’d love to help in any way I can. What role is there for such folk, especially if a large part of the campaign is online. Perhaps there’s an example in the Obama campaign and what contribution people from overseas made to his success – anyone measure this?

It has shown me how I think differently about the world from other people. I am quite convinced that we do not know what the future holds and that the economic situation is so shocking to many people not because of the severity of its effects but because their illusion that they knew what was coming up over the next year, and that it included their house going up in price, their job paying more and prices remaining pretty stable has been shattered. So I find attractive the idea of coming clean on this and giving up the idea that you’ve got to know everything you’re going to do before you get started.

I was also interested in the fear and smear factor that Terence brought up in the comments. Most of the things he talks about, I’m quite comfortable with. I think the issue is how perfect do we expect our representatives to be. Is government just a game where we put people on a pedestal, cultivate extreme and unrealistic expectations of them and then gloat when they fail, in order to make ourselves feel better about our own falings? Possibly. Is that something we want to spend so much time, money and energy on or is there a better way of doing that? Not me.

I think overall, my point is “Let’s stop talking about what the job is, what it has become, but rather get back to what we want and what sort of people can deliver that”

I was most relieved however that Ewan Spence recognised that I want to find a way of taking this seriously without being too serious and pointed me to the advice of the Monster Raving Loony Party.

To run or not to run

Now this feels weird.

It started with a tweet, like so many things in my life today.

mptweetscreen

And of course a bit of banter arose and a hashtag was suggested #LloydDavis4MP but then I started to talk to other people about it and realised that they were taking the proposition seriously, being encouraging saying things like “Oh yes, I think that would be marvellous” So I’m writing about it here so that I’m quite sure that I’m not being blindly selective and only telling people who I know would be supportive but also to better understand what I might do next.

Because I’m up for it, I think. It fits very well with making social art and building community, which is what I (and others) see myself doing. I’m just not sure how.

I see our current national political system suffering from similar issues to those faced by other large organisations – that large-scale centralised bureaucracies do some things extremely efficiently but mostly at the cost of the people who are supposed to be served by them as well as the people who spend their time trying to run them. I think that working out what it might mean to run this country (or any country) in the next century is something worth putting time and energy into.

The expenses row shows just how vulnerable the system is to abuse of trust. I’m quite sure, from the gobsmacked faces and embarrassed shuffling that most MPs considered they were playing the game as it’s supposed to be played and that from their perspective, the goalposts have been moved. Yes, they knew it was probably wrong, but everyone seemed to be doing it and it’s easy in that situation to tell yourself that you’re doing the right thing. Very easy, that is, if the only people you talk to about it are other people who are engaged in the same activity.

So there’s a choice for those of us who see that change is needed. I could write about this over and over and work out what I think and tell other people what they should do or should believe and engage in endless conversations about policy and designing a better system, or I could say, y’know what, I don’t think it’s possible to stand outside a human system and tinker with it, design a desirable future state and then implement it – that’s the process that got us into this mess and innumerable messes before. I think we have to participate in our democracy in a much more active way.

Which brings me to our current parties. I joined the Labour Party in 1983, soon after the second Thatcher election victory. It felt like a grim time. I was a 1 in 10, a number on a list. The economic base that most people at that time had believed would be with us forever, manufacturing industry, was being swept away, restructured or sold off. I instinctively disliked the hard-headed, stubborn, dogmatic and combative style of the Tory party under Thatcher – I preferred the being hard-headed, stubborn, dogmatic and combative in my *own* way, and on the side of people more like my family and friends, so I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists (which for those unacquainted with the history of such things, means what the press at the time dubbed “The Militant Tendency” though that wasn’t what I thought I was getting into at the time). And then throughout the 1980s I took part in political activity that didn’t work. At a local and national level, we lost again and again. I wasn’t forced out of the party over Clause IV or for being a member of a party within a party or anything like that, the reality was that when my son was born in 1991, I had just been made redundant and I needed to spend more time on caring for my own family than fighting for others. I have voted in every election I’ve been entitled to and on each occasion I’ve voted Labour or spoiled the ballot paper where there was no Labour candidate. And perversely I’ve always lived in Conservative constituencies – the only time that the candidate I voted for has won has been in District Council and European elections. But now I’m done with combat and dogma of whatever flavour and you should judge me on what I do and say today, not the things I went through on the way.

And now I feel quite distanced from any of the parties. They don’t seem to live in the same world as the rest of us. They seem to be still trying to play the same game and the game has become more important than the original function.

Those of you who’ve seen me at Tuttle will, I hope, have seen me being of service to the group, to the community. The more that I’ve done that, the more I’ve let go of trying to run it, or make it go in a particular direction, the more successful it has been and the more I’ve enjoyed being part of it. I’d like the opportunity to try that out on a grander scale. And representing local people at a national level seems where there’s most improvement to be made.

We’re all quite exercised about how public servants should act with integrity and honesty – my definition of integrity is simple – you do what you say on the tin – you are open and clear about the principles that you apply when making decisions and you do what you said you’d do.

So the idea of standing as an independent candidate is quite appealing, running on a ticket of integrity and true service. And I’m attracted to serving Bromsgrove because I lived there, I know and love the town and because they seem to have had a rough deal with MPs for a while. I’m open though to doing something elsewhere or accepting that I’m completely wrong about the whole thing and should just get on with something else.

And of course, I have some interesting ideas about how my knowledge of the use of the social web could support both a campaign and the day-to-day business of being a sitting MP.

I’m very interested in what others think on this. Are there qualities that you think I’m lacking? Can you see a more suitable way for me to contribute to this issue?