Monthly Archives: April 2007

Random anthropology

All the graduated Bobs in the world

My wife is researching a new haircut. So she finds herself typing the phrase ‘graduated bob‘ (that’s a kind of haircut) into Google Images. The first half a page of results are as you’d expect: photographs of haircuts. After that it gets really funny and strangely poignant. Look at all those Bobs! And every one of them graduated.

There’s something touching about this catalogue of (mostly) American success stories. Men of all ages, all of whom managed to get through some kind of course of study (and many of whom have beards).

I suppose there’s something melancholy about a collection of similar but entirely unconnected people: It’s like random anthropology: wouldn’t it be fun to get in touch with them all and survey them? How are things going? What are you up to? Did you get married? Are you happy? Are your kids happy?

Shaving for a living

king_of_shaves.jpg

A couple of months ago I blogged a company called King of Shaves, one whose product I had always admired and whose brand I thought was interesting – unconventional, quite funny, a bit knowing. I sort of thought it was American: a bit too much chutzpah for a UK company, I thought.

Anyway, it turns out I was wrong – they’re from Chesham in Bucks – and now, dear reader, I work there! I’ve taken a job as interim head of digital, working with the company’s founder Will King (the King himself), his MD Andy Hill and the rest of his small but perfectly formed team to – among other things – bring the firm’s already quite successful web presence up to date and to come up with interesting new digital stuff.

I’m going to be thinking about ecommerce sales, site traffic and opt-in data. If you have expertise or an interesting product in any of those areas I would, of course, be happy to hear from you.

More Norman Wisdom than Osama Bin Laden

Nigerian truck bomb, 21 April 2007

They had an election in Nigeria. While they were getting ready to vote someone tried to blow up the Electoral Commission with a truck bomb. Truck bombs are pretty common these days. In Iraq and Afghanistan and a dozen other countries a truckload of flammable gas is a 100% effective, 100% lethal weapon.

Truck bombs are the insurgent’s weapon of choice now because – conveniently – there’s always a nutcase ready to get behind the wheel, a man who’s decided he’s happy to die for his meaningless cause, a martyr who’ll guide the thing all the way to its intended target.

The Nigerian truck bomb failed – let’s be honest – because a bunch of blokes shoved it down a hill before running away as fast as they could. Their potentially lethal, election-derailing truck bomb crashed into a telegraph pole, causing a small fire which was quickly extinguished.

These blokes just didn’t have a suicidal bone in their bodies. They jammed the biggest rock they could find onto the truck’s accelerator and hoped for the best. “Suicide mission? You never told me it was a suicide mission! Let’s just push it down the hill and bugger off…” In this fevered time of perfect, unimpeachable, hermetic fanaticism, this kind of 100% ineffective, Norman Wisdom-style insurgent action is almost comic relief. If only they were all like that.

More twitter notes

UPDATE: This post recently passed its FIFTH BIRTHDAY!

Twitter is a simple application with one real function: notification. Twitter posts are called ‘updates’ (or sometimes ‘tweets’). People use Twitter to tell the world practically anything but usually what they’re up to right now.

Twitter is clever because it’s a platform. Dozens of applications already use it as a service. Businesses and individuals are using it to distribute notifications, links, reminders, press releases, even new content – stuff created specially for distribution via twitter (which is going to be very interesting). People are going to build businesses on top of it, just as they’re doing now on top of Google and other web 2.0 businesses.

Strictly, in fact, Twitter is clever because it’s a metaplatform, since it sits on top of a bunch of other platforms: networks, operating systems, applications. It’s all about the evolution of the ‘stack’: services like Twitter are slotted into the hierarchy of communications services above and below existing ones – between the bare wires at the bottom and the highly organised content and ideas at the top – making the whole thing richer and more useful.

Twitter is clever because it works on mobile, web and IM (And some other places too). Being at home in several different environments is quite a trick. Really, the only way to achieve this is to be very simple. Twitter is very simple: 140 characters of text. No pictures, no rich media, no metadata, no nothing. It’s lowest common denominator media (in a good way). Twitter’s richness is all in the contributions of its users

Twitter is clever because it’s social – participation involves building a network. Being successful on Twitter will require you to be popular or at least interesting.

Twitter is clever because it’s human. ‘Following’ someone who’s got something interesting or clever or useful or beautiful to say feels like a real privilege. As a follower you’re permitted access to something intimate and personal – you’re an insider. Getting a Twitter update from someone interesting is a real treat. Coming back to your mobile after a meeting to find a dozen is even better.

Twitter is clever because it’s made by its users. It’s a 100% user-generated form. Twitter is an unobtrusive (‘dumb’) carrier for the words of its users. Twitter – at least for the time being – promises no rich media additions, no video, no chat and no music. Twitter hackers, though, will probably provide all of the above.

Twitter is clever because it’s up-to-date. Attention spans are collapsing, content is distributed in ever smaller chunks, immediacy is a critical value for dozens of products. Twitter’s got the lot.

Widows

My Mother, Bridie Bowbrick, in The Mercy Hospital, Cork, Ireland in April 2007

Three weeks ago my Mum lost her husband. That makes her a widow. She’s joined the universal club of the widows. The thing about widows, once you notice, is that they’re everywhere. They surround us but we hardly see them. Join any queue at the post office or ride on the lower deck of a daytime bus, though, and you’ll be among them. We ignore them because if we didn’t they’d break our hearts.

These widows are a kind of global storehouse of grief. They keep it for us so we don’t have to. Mum spent 50 years (minus two weeks) married to my Dad. Her job now, now that he’s gone, is to not have him, to be without him. She’s quietly inherited the melancholy role of the millions who preceded her. She articulates and embodies loss for the rest of us.

She’s a clever and independent person, my Mum – not a cipher or a shadow or a proxy for a dead man – but the implacable logic of widowhood has her. She’ll move now through a world where she’s grudgingly cared for but quietly resented for surviving. Our societies hate widows because of everything their existence says about our mortality and about the foreshortened vitality of the men they survive.

Women live longer but only so that we can despise their longevity, make jokes about them, patronise and ignore them. We’re mean and miserable about widows. We waste their wisdom and their insight. We falsely categorise them as dotty or wicked: little old ladies. We should love and respect widows but we can’t because they remind us of where we’re going. And for that we can’t forgive them.