Monthly Archives: October 2003

Dancing

I’m in the kitchen washing up and watching Twyla Tharp‘s staggeringly beautiful In The Upper Room on BBC4 ??a piece from 1986 with a score by Philip Glass (They’re having a dance season on BBC4). Although I think Tharp is supposed to be a bit uncool these days, even on the little portable in the kitchen the piece is breathtaking. Now ? at last ? I think I finally understand what Philip Glass‘ music is for.

Why I won’t be buying any Google shares

Actually, it’s quite boring. I won’t be buying any shares in Google because I never buy shares in anything. The only businesses I’ve owned shares in are my own. This probably explains why I wasn’t on Concorde’s final flight last week.

Anyway, Google is now such a household word that you can barely pick out the news about the IPO from the casual mentions of the brand everywhere. Try searching for ‘google’ at The Guardian, for instance.

This is an extraordinary brand, crossing over from weird, stripped-down, geek phenomenon to mainstream consumer fixture in three years.

Zoe Williams Googles herself. An unnamed correspondent in The Times scrabbles for laughs with Google’s translation services. Tom Reilly celebrates Googlewhacking in The Observer (Hey, I’ve got one of those, sort of).

Closer to the point, Vic Keegan, in The Guardian, laments the flotation and John Gapper in the FT worries about Google’s fragile technology lead.

People have a skewed, idealised image of Google. Businesses, once they’ve achieved a certain size, look for a stock market listing. That’s how capitalism works. Listed businesses get access to larger amounts of (cheaper) capital than private ones. They use it to build boring, mainstream businesses and these businesses create jobs and boost economies. The idea that Google might have avoided going public is a product of the twisted Internet imagination. A privately held Google could never really change the world. The obvious risks from exposure to the great unwashed are inevitably outweighed by the growth that access to all that fresh capital will produce. There is a reason why important businesses are listed on stock markets and Google – unconventional image notwithstanding – can’t ignore this.

Homework: make a list of very large privately owned companies (Bertelsmann?). Now make a list of really important privately owned companies – ones that can move cultures and economies over the long term (clue: there aren’t any). Google, like any proper business, consciously and unconsciously longs for influence, notoriety, longevity, scale – all of which flow from a stock market listing much more easily than from a nice, quiet, private life out of the mainstream.

Things I’d have been reading if I’d been reading the right things lately

Tom Standage’s survey ‘Beyond the Bubble‘ from the Economist a couple of weeks ago. You could use these, beautifully written, periodic Economist surveys to plot a pretty accurate graph of sentiment in telecoms and the net business over the last decade. I’ve kept them all, over the years – covering telecoms, the net and ecommerce.

In the old days (that would be 95–99, I guess) I remember ordering boxes of reprints from The Economist and sending them out with brochures for my web design firm. “Look”, I’d say, “it’s all real, It says so right here in The Economist!” Frances Cairncross, the Economist’s original telecoms seer (and author of The Death of Distance, a book that looked like a pretty sober evaluation of the net’s promise when it was published but these days looks more like a brochure for Bubble Inc.), wrote the Economist’s reports on the sector in those days. She seems to have staged a tactical retreat to loftier matters of social and economic policy now, though. Very sensible.

The Guardian’s pull-out survey on housing regeneration, from 24 September (not apparently online, though – unless you know better). Can’t really think of a bigger social issue in this country right now – we’re going to need 5 Million new homes over the next couple of decades – but one that media and politicians relegate to a NIMBY ghetto somewhere behind asylum and gun crime. Only the post-war housing crunch presented a bigger opportunity to rethink urban policy and that crisis brought us a wholesale reengineering of mainstream housing in Britain (epic slum clearances, prefabs, sprawling council estates, misconceived high rises and – finally – the mass privatisation of public housing under Thatcher). Why aren’t we paying attention this time round, though?

Oblomovka Orlowski palaver

Danny’s got some exasperated and nicely-phrased Orlowski bait over at Oblomovka. The thing about Orlowski is that he’s not an aberration and he won’t be going away any time soon. He’s what you get when a self-consciously geeky underground phenomenon gets its head above the parapet and attempts to create meaning for a group larger than its creators.

He’s an irritant and a bore but he’s also quite brave (debunking trendy ideas is sometimes lonely work) and, one of these days, he’ll say something really interesting or uncover some genuine elitism or a real plot. In the meantime, he’s always an entertaining read.

Nice

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Enigmatic Paul Murphy will draw your dog (or your car, or anything really) from a photograph (or from a photograph of somebody else’s dog if you like). Intriguing rumour has it he’s been asked to draw Demi Moore’s kids Rumer, 15, Scout, 11, and Tallulah, 9, as a wedding gift for the planned Valentine’s Day ceremony in Vegas. Nice.

Ouch

When I said that Carltonada shareholders might be happy for Allen and Green to spend a little more time with their families, I definitely didn’t expect it all to kick off quite so soon. A shareholder scorned… The ITV landscape is going to look very different in a few months time. Cue Elstein?

Do it yourself… Start your own school…

I’m at Demos‘ tenth birthday party and I’m bending the ear of Geoff Mulgan ? founder of Demos and, since 1999, a top man in the Number 10 Policy Unit (the do tank) ? about education (I feel OK doing this because he’s had a child since the last time we met). He tells me they’ve got an interesting new initiative ? imported from the USA, natch ? called Street Schools. Local schools, run in people’s homes to cater for school avoiders and other difficult kids.

I told him our specific problem was that we have no local state secondary school ??nothing within five or six miles anyway ??although there are enough kids in the area and the population is growing fast. He told me to start a City Technology College ??the Government’s semi-independent elite schools. I’m thinking ‘why not?’ Wouldn’t it be fun? We could call it NetSchool or something and emphasise network technologies, collaborative pedagogy, weblogs, accessibility, open standards, openness in general etc. Hmm.

Bismarck’s legacy

Europe’s pension ‘pyramid scheme’ is in terminal crisis. In Italy, public pension payments already account for 15% of GDP annually. Everyone knows that pensions are broken (and Britain’s are rather less broken than most other European countries ? public?pensions soak up only 6% of GDP) but no one wants to tackle it ??certainly not the politicians. Being one of those problems that can only get worse with time, the brave politician who finally decides to sort it out will probably be too late (and will certainly lose his job over it).

Everyone also knows that there are essentially only three variables: retirement age, working population and the size of our individual contributions. Since fiddling with one or even two variables is unlikely to do the job, we’re all going to have to recognise sooner or later that organised immigration has a contribution to make (along with having more children.?I’m doing my bit ??I’ve got three!).

No-growth greens are also going to have to tackle this one head on. They’re right to point out that stopping population growth in Europe is one of our most important post-war achievements but they must now face the real, political fact that?holding the population static can only accelerate the crisis and produce poverty for anyone dependent on state provision in the coming decades. The Economist had a good feature and a leader on this two weeks ago (but I’m afraid you need a subscription to see the story).

Media overthrow still imminent

Over in Medialand it’s business as usual. The Telegraph has a new editor (yawn!), Carlton and Granada are to be allowed to merge (did you hear Allen and Green’s surprisingly plausible double act on the Today programme?). David Liddiment in The Guardian is worried – implausibly – about ignorant Americans with no understanding of public service broadcasting blundering in and irreperably damaging the fragile UK broadcast ecology. I say ‘implausibly’ because he seems to think that European broadcasters might make a better fist of it (Ah, Signor Berlusconi. So nice to see you!). Most people are assuming that the Carltonada duo will be spending more time with their families pretty soon.

The prize for the most conspicuous waste of money has to go to the The Tories who spent a hundred grand on a Media Makeover for their increasingly hapless leader. Wouldn’t it be ironic if IDS lost his job before Tony Blair?

Meanwhile, though, the geeks and indie media guerillas are plotting the end of the old-fashioned top-down media as we know it – it’s just that they’re doing it in such a diffident, cerebral way that the old-fashioned top-down media might never notice. Doing the rounds in London this week are kooky Douglas Rushkoff (who wants to overthrow old-fashioned top-down religion while he’s at it) and less kooky Cameron “Blogdex” Marlow. At a ‘brown bag’ seminar (“what? No shrimps on sticks?”) at The Work Foundation‘s gorgeous Carlton House Terrace hang-out last week, top blogger Tom Coates, Marlow and a handful of others quietly and in the sort of complicated, hedged and precise language that only techies and scientists use, laid out a kind of partial, modest first draft manifesto for a democratic, open and… er… bottom-up post-weblog media (only they wouldn’t have been so pretentious as to have called it that).

It was really quite exciting but you’d have to have been listening very carefully to get it. James “The Chairman” Crabtree wrote it up in detail.