Are trade unions the answer to the economic crisis?

Perhaps it was inevitable that, with the rekindling of interest in the economic analysis of Marx and Engels on the crest of the current global economic crisis, the idea of organised labour as a force for good would emerge somewhere down the line.

But a couple of columnists – Will Hutton in the Guardian and Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, in the New York Times – both refer to an unlikely advocate for trade unionism in pieces published over the weekend: the International Monetary Fund.

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Britain’s brand: ‘this frail travelling coincidence’

It may sound like a glass-half-full definition but Frank Cotterell Boyce’s reference to this line from Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Wedding, perfectly pinpoints the poignant curiosities of the British character that his script for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony so brilliantly conveyed.

The Larkin reference is included – about 12 minutes in – in this fascinating interview for Radio 4’s ‘Broadcasting House’ in which Mr Cotterell Boyce describes the behind-the-scenes experience of what, for me at least, was the defining cultural moment of 2012 in the United Kingdom.

Why reform banking when we could transform it instead?

Once upon a time – a couple of years ago in fact – I was so alarmed by the high cost of payday loans advertised by brands like QuickQuid and Wonga, that I started a small campaign called 2356percent (it’s a link to an article from the Independent, by the way, the 2356percent site is no more).

One thing led to another and, thanks to Greg Mulholland MP, an Early Day Motion, signed by about 30 MPs, was tabled in the House of Commons. Because of that campaign, I was invited to meet with Errol Damelin, the chief executive of Wonga. We had a fascinating conversation and the 2356percent campaign has been pretty much dormant since.

That’s not because Wonga persuaded me that their loans were a good thing; instead, I realised that campaigning against behaviour in a financial services ecosystem which spawns brands like Wonga is not the same as campaigning for an alternative kind of financial services industry.

I reached the conclusion that – no matter how persuasive the calls for the regulation of people like payday lenders from MPs like Stella Creasy – the financial services industry is unlikely to up its game until there’s an alternative way of doing things that really challenges the status quo.

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Why we shouldn’t trade Sundays for Sunday trading

When I was a kid, there was absolutely nothing to do on Sundays.

(Well OK, that’s not strictly true. As a son of the Manse, I had to attend church in the morning, but that didn’t really count as ‘doing something’; it was more like the the spiritual equivalent of having to do the washing up.)

Apart from the newsagents that opened in the mornings, and perhaps the occasional petrol station, everything else seemed to be shut.

From a kid’s perspective – and probably an adult’s too – the net effect was that Sundays were truly boring. So I ought to be whooping with joy at the prospect of the Government’s desire to suspend Sunday trading laws to allow shops and businesses to trade during the London 2012 Olympics.

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Time to cut the Facebook and Twitter clutter

Whether you’re inclined to regard Aol as a barometer of cultural trends or not, I’m pretty sure that there’s something in David Shing’s reported prediction.

Obviously, it’s worth bearing in mind that Mr Shing’s comments may well be self-serving too: it helps to be in the business of targeted content if more targeted content is what’ll win the day in an ‘attention economy’.

Nonetheless his comments should be seized on – at a reasonably contemplative pace – by people like The World Institute of Slowness; they’ve been banging on about the need for a more measured approach to human existence since 1999. (And, no, the irony’s not lost on me that I’m helping to add to the clutter referred to by Mr Shing.)

Landor: Why ‘I want an iPad’ beats ‘I want an iPad xyz’

Just spotted this really interesting piece for Forbes.com by Allen Adamson at Landor’s blog. The clinching argument is made in the penultimate paragraph of the piece:

“I think the company made a smart decision in not giving the newest iPad a new name. It makes it simpler for people. I want an iPad. How simple is that? I don’t have to explain which iPad, other than saying the newest model or the less expensive model.”

In fact, I think plenty of marketers – and not just market leaders – may want to take note of Apple’s decision not to call its latest iPad ‘iPad 3’ or something like that.

For me, it’s the underlying idea that just the right amount of branding enables people to recog­nise and under­stand how to nav­ig­ate your business’s goods, ser­vices and organisation. A little more branding than is necessary, and it’s probably going to have the opposite effect.

To be honest, I wasn’t at all concerned what the latest iPad would be called.

I suspect I’m like most people: what matters to me that a product lives up to its promise when I decide to invest my cash in it. If it doesn’t, no amount of branding is going to fix that.

Landor Associates

The tweeter, the brand and the reputational minefield

Sooner or later, the consequences of a brand allowing an employee to tweet on their behalf – to the extent that the individual and the brand become interchangeable as brand symbols – was going to wind up in court action (‘Man sued for keeping company Twitter followers’, BBC News, 27 December 2011).

In the case of Noah Kravitz and his former employer Phonedog – an ‘interactive mobile news and reviews resource’ which claims 2.5 million unique visits to its site each month – the legal principle at stake is whether the followers of a Twitter account, accumulated while an individual was tweeting on behalf of a business, amount to a database of customers and prospective customers that may be considered the property of the company once they’ve left?

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The filter bubble, the ethics of data and the EU

I drafted this back in June but just didn’t publish it for some reason. A good deal of the content is based on a comment I posted in reply to Prof George Brock’s post ‘The filter bubble and public reason’.

Do users of the web really have a world of information at their fingertips? Or do recent innovations in search algorithms – in pursuit of ever increasing personal relevancy of results – simply yield an ever decreasing pool of information from which an individual is able to fish for their perspective on the world? And, if so, should we be worried about it?

Eli Pariser has been asking questions like this in recent months and, while Mr Pariser’s name may not be immediately familiar to you, I’d be surprised if the label that he’s used to describe the dilemma hadn’t registered on your radar: the filter bubble.

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Facebook’s ventures into brand diplomacy

Former Guardian technology writer, Jack Schofield, shared an intriguing link to a news item in the Silicon Valley Mercury Newsearlier this week.

It intrigued me for two reasons: first, that Facebook had decided to establish a network of 70 international representatives to establish a quasi-diplomatic service in key regions of the world and, second, that Google had already establish as similar operation in 2006.

The Google information was news to me. It’s not unusual for brands to employ corporate communications teams whose role is to maintain positive relations with both state and non-state actors both nationally and globally. It remains to be seen if the nature of the team that Facebook intends to establish veers away from this traditional role.

However, reading between the lines, the focus of the announcement suggests that Facebook is acknowledging a need to insulate its operation from unwanted legal and regulatory intrusion in the future – or an outright ban of its technology altogether – in nations where the nature of its operating model runs counter to prevailing political philosophy.

The story in the Silicon Valley Mercury News ran:

Facebook’s new global policy team will monitor the local political landscape and act as multilingual, TV-friendly communicators in countries and for cultures that, in many cases, have very different values and laws about privacy and personal communications than the U.S. Facebook is confronting its emergence as a global organization whose membership is much larger than the population of most countries, and whose technology can antagonize both Middle Eastern dictators and European democracies fretful about privacy. The international directors of policy, as Facebook calls them, will grapple with those challenges.

Privacy and collective attention deficit disorder

It is a tragic irony that, under the hastily erected canopy of ‘media freedom’, the clamour to expose the identity of a Premier League footballer may only serve to degrade the personal freedoms enjoyed by the very people who chipped away at its edifice tweet by tweet by tweet.

But, really, was this about democracy, freedom and rights?

Or was it simply the market for voyeuristic satisfaction, tawdry self-publicity and self-aggrandisement in motion?

The mob doesn’t think
I’m sure I won’t be the only person wheeling out the line of Joe Wilson – played by Spencer Tracy – in Fritz Lang’s Fury: ‘The mob doesn’t think. It has no mind of its own.’ but that’s because there’s precious little evidence that it did.

I won’t dwell on the legal aspects of the case; I couldn’t ever claim to do justice to it (forgive the pun) having read this post by blogger @loveandgarbage yesterday.

But what I will say is that, while people may have thought they were – in some way – championing the cause of a right to know, I’d argue that they were actually engaged in the polar opposite: cannibalising their own right to privacy.

That aside, there is another societal aspect to this episode which is deeply worrying.

It disturbs me that the advent of real-time technologies, like Twitter, are leading to episodes of a kind-of collective attention deficit disorder.

In our haste to express our perspective, often complex circumstances are whittled down to a 140 characters; quite literally, belittling a topic or issue or event.

For example, does it occur to us that the Arab Spring is symptomatic of the clash of liberal capitalist models of democracy with theocratic Islamic thinking? Is that worth a tweet? Or do we simply say ‘Yea! Go for it #egypt’?

Do we take a moment to read and consider the way in which Mr Justice Eady’s judgment sought to balance the competing demands of Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act before upholding the decision to apply an injunction protecting the privacy of a footballer?

Or am I alone in thinking that, as individuals, we are simply paying insufficient attention to the details and background of an issue to form an informed opinion, and bleating our half-cocked views, which suit our prejudices, anyway?

Is our desire for attention the source of self-centred or smart-alec tweets in pursuit of an rise in our mentions and retweet equity – with its potential to boost our PeerIndex or Klout, or even follower count?

And, crucially, is this desire beginning to erode values that, prior to the advent of the social web, we seemed to pay more attention to? Like respect for other people’s privacy, for instance?

Quantities versus qualities
I wonder if, in this clamour for the quantities of life, are we losing our grip on its qualitiesand compromising our ability to aspire to qualities that are socially desirable as a consequence of it?

Because it strikes me that the law doesn’t exist solely to protect us from harm and disorder; it also exists to protect us from ourselves.

The desire to demolish another individual’s rights to a private family life – a right which is specifically catered for in the UK’s Human Rights Act and European Convention – seems not only to show contempt for the law but also to other people’s fundamental right to privacy.

Far from being social, that is little more than anti-social isn’t it?

Our rights may be fundamental but they are not absolute. They depend on the attention and respect we pay to each other’s right to dignity and privacy. The moment we seek to deny an individual of their rights – regardless of popular opinion – we leave our own dignity and respect open to abuse.

The argument that, simply because technology has the capacity to achieve an outcome, can never be an adequate justification for its abuse. In fact it’s an abdication of responsibility that’s tantamount to claiming that it’s the trigger, and not the person holding it, that fires the bullet.

Regardless of technology’s potential, it is always an individual – or groups comprising individuals – that bring its potential to life.

If it wasn’t for my, generally, positive experience of encountering other individuals on Twitter, I would have deleted my account this morning.

As it is, the jury’s now out for me.