We’ll Shop-Hop ’til They Drop

So far this month 3 of the UK’s high street giants have bitten the dust – HMV, Jessops and today Blockbuster.  This should come as no surprise as we, The People, have headed out of their stores and moved swiftly through the doors of the online world.  So the Big Question in my mind now is what will our high streets look like in 5 years time?

It’s worth watching current trends to get a sneak preview:

Don’t Dupe Us (Large Greedy Corporates)

Take the new coffee shop Harris and Hoole who, claiming to be ‘a family affair’ is targeting those wishing to support the independents and luring them away from the Starbucks of this world. Yet when the coffee sippers got whiff of the fact that Harris and Hoole was in fact 49% owned by Tescos many were not impressed.  People don’t like being duped. When they realise they are, then the heckles rise – leading some to do the most curious of things .

Support Our Local Pop Ups

Pop ups are currently all the rage.   Supporting start ups and SME’s is at least one way of utilising empty spaces left by the broken retailers with even the government doing it’s bit by opening a store within the Department for Communities and Local Government in Westminster where six small retailers move in every two weeks.

But pop ups aren’t just popping up on the high streets.  Taking this concept one step further I visited the Medway Open Studios event one weekend before Christmas where makers opened up their own houses to show and sell their products.  One street in Rochester had 6 houses open to the public where anyone could freely walk in, meet the owners, browse their goods and purchase (if you felt so inclined – which I did).   Could this be a sign of things to come?

Merging online and offline?  We can handle that…

Why pay £70.00 for an item on the high street when you can pay £54.00 on Amazon and get it delivered to your door?  For most of us these days shopping online really is no big deal.  Only last week I was told by an extremely frosty manager of one high street clothing outlet that, despite my having shopped there for 15 years and spending £100’s each year with them that “no”, I could not return a sale item I had bought the day before even if I did want a refund of just £30.00 but intended spending £140.00 on other items there and then instead.  I went home to Amazon armed with my size details and product code and saved myself £38.00.  I will now only use that high street shop to try on items, make a note of my size, then jump online to purchase it.  Had the manger been given the authority to accept my explanation – rather than strict training around company returns policies – they would not have lost me.  Herein lies a lesson for the large chains to take on board. The importance now of a truly personalised service and why chain stores need to let their managers act like independents and allow them to make their own rational decisions.

Yet done right retailers can take full advantage of the merging of our online and offline purchasing habits.  John Lewis appear to have got it right in terms of their customers willingness to merge the bricks and mortar experience with their online shopping.  Econsultancy notes how, compared with the same period in 2011 their like-for-like sales was up 13% in the 5 weeks to December 29 2012 and their online sales grew almost three times faster at 44.3% – accounting for a quarter of all group sales.  Econsultancy goes on to give a great summary of 14 key reasons as to how they achieved it – and highlights how 40% of their shoppers used their reserve online and collect over Christmas service.

While bricks and mortar sort out their online stores so online stores are emerging onto the High Street.  Looking to the future Social Commerce Today discusses Ebay’s London Pop Up in Covent Garden:

“In truth, the eBay pop-up store works more as a concept and vision – rather than efficient shopping tool…  But we like it because it outlines what an Amazon-proof retail strategy of the future could look like

  • Event based – opportunistic, temporary pop-up around a popular shopping/calendar event
  • Experiential – re-imagines sensorial shopping in a fun interactive way with technology consumers know and love
  • Efficient – or ‘asset-light‘ in Mary Meeker Speak – low cost retail solution that bridges the artificial online/offline shopping divide”

So there is a future for our high streets – if done correctly.

Social Experiences Please

Perhaps what we’re really looking at then is a return of a high street which is as much about a social experience as it is about purchasing items.  A glimmer of hope in this direction appears in the world of book stores which, with the introduction of eBooks, many thought would make books stores on the high street a thing of the past. In the past 10 years the number of independent booksellers in Britain has halved – yet in August 2012 a report by the Booksellers Association found that the number of children’s bookshops in the UK had risen in the previous year from 36 to 40. As the Independent points out:

On high streets across the country, bookshops are fighting back and finding imaginative ways to attract customers, from bookshops with in-house ice-cream parlours and pirate ship-shaped crèches, to those with gift shops and on-site gigs.” 

Perhaps if HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster had looked to creating experiences for their clients and offering more than just products in supermarket style rows their demise could have been averted.

In truth though we don’t necessarily have to look so much ahead as look back to one great innovator of our high streets to relearn this lesson.  Mr Selfridge, who back in 1909 opened Selfridges and coined the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is said to have ‘put the fun back into shopping’ which he did with great gusto.  If providing the first public demonstration of television in the store in 1925 and housing a seismograph which recorded an earthquake in Belgium in 1938 wasn’t enough then the miniature golf course (now reinstated) and all girls gun club on the roof (sadly not reinstated 😦 ) should give us some inspiration for today.

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Les Flâneurs des Smart Cities

There’s currently a lot of hype around Smart Cities and how technology can assist cities to become ‘smarter’, more efficient and ultimately ‘aid’ the citizen.  Sensors which can be attached to nearly anything, the data collected about nearly everything, CCTV cameras and the tracking abilities of the phone in your pocket means that the opportunity for us to disappear in a crowd is pretty much impossible. Watching the Urban Age Electric City Conference 2012 last week I was pleased to hear Richard Sennett stand up against this hype proclaiming: “I love getting lost. Surprise and serendipity is part of the experience of complexity, how we innovate” and in an article he wrote for the Guardian that same week:  “If they have a choice, people want a more open, indeterminate city in which to make their way; this is how they can come to take ownership over their lives.”

He is not alone in his thoughts.  Over the centuries city dwellers have had to constantly adapt to new technological innovations and the importance of maintaining control of one’s environment resurges constantly.  Take Baudelaire and the technological advancements of his era in Paris:

In the mid 19th century cities were being transformed dramatically and since the French Revolution an extensive network of controls had appeared across Paris.  Balzac commented on the problems of modern living for city dwellers:

Poor women of France!  You would probably like to remain unknown so that you can carry on your little romances.  But how can you manage this in a civilization which registers the departures and arrivals of coaches in public places, counts letters and stamps them when they are posted and again when they are delivered, assigns numbers to houses, and will soon have the whole country, down to the smallest plot of land, in its registers?” (Modeste Mignon 1836)

Add to this Walter Benjamin who describes how the citizens of Paris reacted to the introduction of buses and trams:

People had to adapt themselves to a new and rather strange situation, one that is peculiar to big cities…  Simmel has provided an excellent formulation of what was involved here “Before the development of buses, railroads and trams in the 19th century, people had never been in situations where they had to look at one another for long minutes or even hours without speaking to one another”.  These situations were…  not pleasant” (Selected Writings 1938-1940 The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire)

There was deep uncertainty about this situation because city dwellers until then had not had to mix with others they did not know, never mind feel comfortable with.  Simultaneously a trend emerged amongst some members of the bourgeoisie in Paris (Baudelaire included) to write ‘physiologies’ – articles and poems published in feuilletons which were sold on the street describing members of the public they had observed while sauntering round the newly built arcades and wide avenues of Paris.  It was only once these  arcades (similar to the Burlington Arcade in London) and wide avenues such as Boulevard Haussmann were built that the art of the ‘flâneur’ (saunterer) emerged as previously cities had not been designed for casual walking – the streets having no wide pavements or arcades on which to sit or stand to simply ‘observe’.  It was suggested that these literary works helped people bridge the gap between citizens who had never had to mix before, give people a more friendly picture of one another and, as the physiologies developed over time, to even help reassure people that you could ‘make out the profession, character, background, and lifestyle of passers-by’.  There was, they implied, nothing to be worried about when travelling with people you did not know.

It was against this backdrop that Baudelaire lived in Paris and when the art of the flâneur grew.  It was Walter Benjamin who first used the name ‘flâneur’ when describing Baudelaire and the poetry he wrote. Baudelaire was a ‘saunterer’, a detached observer – a new concept of the time:

To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.” (Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays)

To Baudelaire being a flâneur meant that he could observe but also ‘disappear in the crowd’ which was relevant because he needed to stay under the radar to evade his creditors.  As described by Walter Benjamin, Baudelaire was constantly moving between cafés and reading circles and spent many years having 2 domiciles then when the rent was due moving onto a 3rd lodging with friends.  Roaming the city, keeping under the radar was becoming increasingly complex.  He was not alone in his resistance against the increasing tightening of controls. Even though the obligatory numbering of houses was introduced in 1805 it was recorded that by 1864 people in the proletarian quarters of the city at least, when asked where they lived, still referred to the name of their house and not the official street number.

For us the concept of a city without house numbers is almost unimaginable and we are accepting of a city full of CCTV cameras, but another suggestion made in the Urban Age Electric City Conference that perhaps it would be a great idea to have no lighting at night in some places in London but to ensure that everyone knew that CCTV cameras were in operation there to keep people safe is going a step too far…  Isn’t it???

With all this in mind it may be worth expanding Sennett’s comment in the Guardian from above with a little more context:

“the prospect of an orderly city has not been a lure for voluntary migration, neither to European cities in the past nor today to the sprawling cities of South America and Asia. If they have a choice, people want a more open, indeterminate city in which to make their way; this is how they can come to take ownership over their lives.”

Let’s hope we are given that choice.

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Spying – A True British Legacy

The total feel good factor that has washed across the country in the last 2 weeks of Olympics has been breathtaking. We all rose to the challenge, the return of British pride (which I touched upon previously) appeared like a wave from nowhere and the sheer enthusiasm and commitment shown by the Games Makers really did make it feel like ‘the People’s Games’.

One issue though which dampened my spirits slightly was the UK’s obsession with spying. How did LOCOG (London Olympic Games Organising Committee) manage to plonk 83 Wenlock and Mandeville ‘one-eyed’ mascots at key places around London (as part of a new ‘discovery’ trail to promote the Games) with their cool design features of friendship bands in Olympic colours (very sweet) and of large one-eyes – hidden cameras which ‘lets Wenlock record everything’?    London has already taken the Gold in being the most surveilled city of the industrialised western states – surely this one was just a step too far?  Apparently not.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised.  After all, it was the UK who thought up this type of spying in the first place:

From an article ‘Use of the Camera Obscura in The Glasgow Mechanics’ Magazine, no. XXXII, 1824:

‘An occurence originated in a Camera Obscura exhibited here during Fair week, which shows the important use to which the amusing optical apparatus may be applied.  A person happened to be examining, with great interest, the various lively and ever shifting figures which were pourtrayed upon the white tablet during the exhibition, when he beheld, with amazement, the appearance of one man picking another man’s pocket….  From this circumstance, the utility of placing such apparatus in all places of public amusement and exhibitions, must be obvious.  Whether it might be proper to erect it in the streets of a populous city like this, and to place it under the inspection of an officer for the detection of mischief and crime, is a matter worthy of the consideration of the local authorities..’

I was going to end this post with a link to my favourite bit of the Games – a video from the Opening Ceremony secretly filmed by one of the volunteers eye wasthere as he entered the show as a member of the cast of the Industrial Revolution / Pandaemonium section.  It summed up the whole spirit of the People’s Games perfectly.  Unfortunately LOCOG, in its determined spirit of monitoring any online content filmed by the People at the Games has decided to take it down… Sorry about that  as LOCOG says.

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Sustaining sustainability

The unexpected arrival of a wind turbine blade at the Tate Modern earlier this month made in protest against the Tate’s relationship with BP marked the continuation of the sustainability march against the oligarchs of the energy empires.  The continual streams of protests made over many decades may occasionally manage the odd dent on the oil industries reputation – but how many supporters are aware how long this battle has actually been running?

In The Strand Magazine, 1898 it was reported that, 17 years earlier, Lord Kelvin had made a speech “On the Sources of Energy in Nature Available to Man for the Production of Mechanical Effect’:

” … The subterranean coal stores of the world are becoming exhausted… and the price of coal is upward bound.  When the coal is all burned… it is probable that windmills, or wind motors in some form, will again be in the ascendant… Even now it is not chimerical to think of wind superseding coal in some places for a very important part of its duty – that of giving light.  Indeed, now that we have dynamos and Faure’s accumulator, the little want, to let the thing be done, is cheap windmills”

The magazine article continues:

“Every year since 1881 has seen new improvements in these machines, greater power and greater cheapness, until, at present, the application of wind power to the production of electricity has proved itself an assured economic success.”

Some things just don’t change….

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The Return of Made in Britain: Are we now allowed to be proud?

Way back in the 1980’s I worked in the UK textile manufacturing industry. Those were the days when selling british made products and the Made in Great Britain brand was simply what we did and sitting in a tiny showroom on Regent Street overlooking Liberties I saw it all.  We produced top quality silk products for the upper end of the retail market globally – not just Liberties, Harrods and the independents in the Burlington Arcade but to major stores in New York, Paris and Japan.  What the buyers came over to source in the UK was not just top quality products with the ‘Made in Great Britain’ label but also our British heritage too – with all its quirks and eccentricities.  So this is exactly what we provided.    We’d take them to visit our factory in Berkshire to meet the team, visit the silk weavers and printers in Kent and Suffolk who supplied our silk cloth and at the same time show off our country to boot.  We were proud of what we had and they left wanting to become part of that English experience and join a community which they could see constantly supported each other.

A few years later I worked for a much larger UK manufacturer supplying products to Marks & Spencer.  Ah yes, there really was a time when nearly all products sold by M&S really were made in Britain.  They stuck to their guns as long as they could but as competition from cheaper manufacturers abroad continued to drive down the price of manufacturing they finally had to cave in, reducing its proud boast in 1999 that 90% of all products were made in the UK to a mere 10% by 2004. We didn’t lose just our industry but also whole communities – together with our self esteem.

So it was with a rather broad grin and gleeful chuckling that I sat and watched Mary Portas as she delivered the final episode on Channel 4 of her scheme “Mary’s Bottom Line” last week.  As transportation and foreign labour costs are now on the rise she set out determined to prove that a quality product at an affordable price could be manufactured in the UK using only British made materials – from the lace to the packaging. Reopening a textiles factory Headen Quormby in Middleton which had shut its doors 8 years ago she took 8 unemployed youngsters and had them trained up by 2 of the original seamstresses.

The biggest challenge seemed to be the sourcing of materials rather than the selling of the products.  Liberties, M&S and Boots all opened their arms to her placing enough orders to kick the scheme off, but the hunt for British woven lace proved to be a tough job. Finally she found a small factory producing lace owned by Jim Stacey who has diligently been ruthless with his overheads in the belief that once prices of goods from China start to go up then he should be able to make a living, and Douglas Gill who managed to remain open for business purely because of this project.

But this isn’t just a story about the new potential for cost effective British manufacturing.  “Pants to unemployment” says Mary.  As she put it: “we’re creating a social capital where people have a sense of belonging, where people feel great about themselves and put money back into this country”.  And in the programme this is plain to see.  The self confidence, sense of achievement and camaraderie which grows amongst the apprentices is touching.  “I was really worried they would be sitting bored” she said.  None of it.  Watching one 20 year old guy who had never worked, had a child and whose parents had never worked either knuckle down and succeed was totally uplifting.  They had a new family, were building a community, a common goal and above all a sense of purpose.  As the scheme developed and the orders flooded in Mary turned to Lynn Birkbeck whose parents founded the company in 1935 and commented: “You’ve given such a beautiful energy to it – that’s why it’s happened”.  “No more than anybody else” she replied “It’s team work”.  There’s much talk these days about the new ideas of the flattening of hierarchies – but although hierarchies have always existed it should be remembered how even back then everyone was respected for what they brought to the whole.  We were all spokes in a wheel each totally reliant on the other.  I was reminded of my second week working in that Regent Street showroom when I had to ring my first order through to the factory.  I was in my early 20’s and I spoke to Wally the foreman who was in his 60’s and had been there for donkeys years.  “I’ve got an order but the client needs it in 3 weeks.  Is that possible?”  His reply: “It’s my job to make sure that whatever you need to happen happens love”.  And that was that.  We were a team, part of a close-knit community all working together, all proud to be selling Britain to the rest of the world.

I suppose at this point I should add what it is they are producing: Kinky Knickers.  If anyone had told me 25 years ago that I’d be promoting and getting excited about the production of knickers they’d probably have gotten a sideways glance, a *roll of eyes* and watched me shuffle off quickly. But hey, if it takes knickers to catch the imagination of the British and get UK manufacturing rolling again then who am I to argue (*sigh*, *roll of eyes*, awkward shuffle of feet…)?  But as Mary says on the show  ‘All of you who spend £3 or more on a cup of coffee and a muffin you can surely spend £3 more on your knickers and you’ll be putting it into the British economy”.  If it keeps the kids employed then you can’t really argue with that one can you?

I was telling this story to a friend who has had links with the textile industry since the 1970’s and who is currently one of our small shop keepers fighting a 50% rental increase whilst trying to survive. “She’s got it Janet, it’s all about positivity – Accentuate the Positive that’s what she’s doing.  Send her this song.”   So @maryportas and Lynn @HeadenQuarmby , here’s this song from us to you:

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Looking Forward: Going Backward: Part 2: Commutinies¡ – The Quiet Revolution

It’s not new news that either through choice or simply to make ends meet the number of independent workers is on the rise – two thirds of the US workforce are now not linked to a traditional 9-to-5 job and, according to a survey conducted by the 2011 Freelancers Union, almost half of US workers (46%) have earned their income from two or more categories of work in the last year. (Freelancer’s Union 2011: America’s Uncounted Independent Workforce).

Governments seem apparently happy to turn their backs on the plight of many, yet what could be described as a dismal situation – the loss of the traditional ‘job for life’ and pension – is creating a different type of workforce.  Quietly people are joining forces both globally and locally to form alternatives to the traditional capitalist modelwe may, as the New York Times points out, be ‘moving to something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism – without anyone even noticing’.

A new social market ecosystem is emerging in which collaboration is key.  Many have entered a whole new way of working – often casually at first – to find themselves becoming entrepreneurs, producers or suppliers, often in many places and spaces both virtually and physically all at the same time.

Virtual Communities – Global and Local

Global communities online abound where you can make your online mark and make a buck – and much hype and money is being poured into these ventures.   The last 5 years or so have seen the increase and success of community-based sites such as Etsy.com for buying and selling your handmade products, Kickstarter the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects (just recently the author of a self-published webcomic ‘The Order of the Stick’ raised more than $1m from fans on the site to bring his stories back into print making it the richest creative work in the crowdfunding site’s history), or Local Motors – the world’s first open-source community of car designers and fabricators with the mission “To lead the next generation of crowd-powered automotive manufacturing, design, and technology in order to enable the creation of game changing vehicles.”

It’s all very enticing but online communities in areas of business where you are up against global competition can sometimes feel more like a global bazaar than a global village.  In every way you’re up against the best the world can offer.  Often the cost of setting up competing online businesses is minimal therefore it’s easy for many to copy your business idea, add to that competition for work where there may well be others more creative than you, products being sold cheaper than yours or those with stronger online reputations and who have the time and energy to shout louder.

Local Communities

Back on the ground an increasing number are turning their backs on the traditional capitalist ‘large corporation’ model and are becoming involved in co-ops and worker-owned companies. As the New York Times notes:

Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions…

Collaboration, transparency, responsibility and sustainability are common themes – a definitive move away from competition and self-interest, (while even recent Harvard Business Research offered evidence that corporations with sustainability embedded into their culture (through social, environmental & economic awareness and ethics) consistently outperform traditional businesses focused solely on profit.

We seem to be waking up to the fact that the large corporates perhaps are a ‘form of tyranny more abhorrent that it (society) had ever endured.’ described in Part 1 in 1887 and to which we have become conditioned are not necessarily the way forward.

System D – Slipping behind the Government

While these new global online and local communities have been building let’s not forget one element of ‘community’ which has been going on globally for centuries: The Black Market – or, as it has been recently retagged by the French: System(e) D.

Outside the reach of the measurement and control of central governments there is another sign in the shift in the way the future economy could grow.  Freakonomics highlights  an article by Robert Neuwirth for Foreign Policy:

“In 2009, the OECD concluded that half the world’s workers (almost 1.8 billion people) were employed in the shadow economy. By 2020, the OECD predicts the shadow economy will employ two-thirds of the world’s workers. This new economy even has a name: “System D”.

Governments’ answers to System D seems to be to try and eliminate cash and push transactions online where they are able to be measured and monitored (The Shadow Economy in Europe 2011 – see pdf link – The Shadow Economy in Europe, 2011.  But won’t this attitude simply encourage many to push further away from working via the online world – and aren’t we having enough of being electronically tracked and monitored anyway?

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Looking Forward: Going Backward: Part 1- Man and Machine 1887 – 2012

I admit to being a bit of an old book freak.  Stick me in a corner with a falling apart copy of some 19th century book and I’ll be happy – and occasionally it produces the odd gem.  Recently I came across the science fiction classic ‘Looking Backward: Going Forward: 2000 – 1887’ by Edward Bellamy which was written in 1887.  It was the third-largest bestseller of its time and influenced many intellectuals, appearing by title in many major Marxist writings of the day.  About a man who falls asleep in the year 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000 it describes how, while the man slept, the United States transformed into a socialist utopia and covers Bellamy’s ideas such as the dangers of the stock market, the use of credit cards and the use of an “industrial army”.  A fascinating read in general one section in particular caught my eye.

A discussion takes place between a man (Dr Leete) from the year 2000 and the narrator (Dr. West) from the year 1887.  They talk about the impact of the Industrial Revolution in 1887 and how those at that time viewed its social implications.  Here are just a couple of segments:

 Dr Leete:  ”And you tell me that even then (1887) there was no general recognition of the nature of the crisis which society was nearing?….  The singular blindness of your contemporaries to the signs of the times is a phenomenon commented on by many of our historians (0f 2000), but few facts of history are more difficult for us to realize, so obvious and unmistakable as we look back seem the indications, which must also have come under your eyes, of the transformation about to come to pass…  You must, at least, have realized that the widespread industrial and social troubles, and the underlying dissatisfaction of all classes with the inequalities of society, and the general misery of mankind, were portents of great changes of some sort.”

Mr West: “We did, indeed, fully realize thatWe felt that society was dragging anchor and in danger of going adrift. Whither it would drift nobody could say, but all feared the rocks…”

Now this of course rings so many bells in relation to our current state of affairs.  No one then knew the true impact that the Industrial Revolution would have on society – and as we appear now to be emerging from a period during which we have relied on an economy driven on what was the output of the Industrial Revolution we too are questioning where we are drifting – and many do fear it will be towards the rocks.

Dr Leete continues to describe how many workers went on strike in 1887 due to the effects of the concentration of capital by a small number of concerns with vast capital – something which had never been experienced before:

“Before this concentration began the individual workman was relatively important and independent in his relations to the employer….  a little capital or a new idea was enough to start a man in business for himself, workingmen were constantly becoming employers and there was no hard and fast line between the two classes…..  The individual laborer, who had been relatively important to the small employer, was reduced to insignificance and powerlessness over against the great corporation, while at the same time the way upward to the grade of employer was closed to him. Self-defense drove him to union with his fellows.”

Clearly at that point the loss of control of the individual’s ability to be independent as the large corporates of the Industrial Revolution swooped in was of deep concern.  There was a huge outcry against the great corporations which threatened society with a ‘form of tyranny more abhorrent that it had ever endured’.  Men believed that:

 the great corporations were preparing for them the yoke of a baser servitude than had ever been imposed on the race, servitude not to men but to soulless machines incapable of any motive but insatiable greed….  humanity was never confronted with a fate more sordid and hideous than would have been the era of corporate tyranny which they anticipated”

Since 1887 we in the West have been living in a society in which large corporations have ruled.  Many would agree that the predictions of those in 1887 did come to pass and that we did indeed find ourselves ‘bowing down to a yoke of servitude’.  Yet it should be remembered that this ‘servitude’ allowed many over the long term to lead lives of relative wealth, comfort, stability and security.  But now, as those large corporations are no longer able to provide us with that stability many (46% in the US alone) are having to refind our feet as true independents.  As we emerge from an age in which we have had energy resources on tap to keep the large industrial fires burning we are grappling with what this means for society and where we are really heading.

In Part 2: Commutinies¡ – The Quiet Revolution I will be exploring the quiet revolution – how independent workers are joining forces and turning their backs on the traditional capitalist models and what some of our visionaries of today see as being the new way forward.  Part 3: Myth of the Machine will explore our relationship with machines. Will we really end up living much of our lives in a global virtual bazaar – or will the future find us living more akin to those in 1887 – leading a village life in real life?

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“Simplicity, control and certainty” – the Future?

“.. the fear of greater connectivity, which will create more volatility and more anxiety, may generate demand for simplicity, control and certainty” Richard Watson, Ernst & Young, Performance Preview

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Digital Nomads – the rise and rise of the location independent worker

The rise of the digital nomad, that is, “someone who uses technology and the internet to work remotely—from home, the coffee shop, internet cafe, or even to collaborate remotely with teams anywhere in the world” has been predicted for many years now. Working for yourself virtually has been a dream for some but now the stats are proving that, like it or lump it, it’s going to be a reality for many.  Recently Gigaom noted the  rise in demand for online freelancers and mentioned that according to the Freelancers Union, a non-profit advocacy organization, approximately 30% of the U.S. job market today consists of independent workers with this figure expected to reach 40% by the end of the decade. Even the Bank of Scotland is reporting an increasing number of people turning to freelance work rather than look for permanent work, while Orange’s report ‘Connected Britain’ of 2009 highlights studies indicating that by 2020 approximately 80% of the UK workforce will not be tied in to a 9-5 or a fixed-place daily office routine.  Which ever statistics you look at the trend definitely can’t be ignored – co-working spaces are springing up everywhere LikeMinds, The Hub Kings Cross and the soon to open Central in London are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg.

While companies have a lot to adapt to in terms of managing their virtual workforces (see Gigaom’s recent ‘7 Tips for Building a successful Team of Freelancers‘) the benefits are pretty evident – reduction in overhead costs and the ability to be nimble in the company’s offerings by bringing in talent for specific projects being obvious examples.

For the digital nomads though this brave new world does have its challenges and where the next assignment will come from is obviously high on the list.  The traditional ‘who will do the job for least dosh wins’ transactional style job sites are still out there – a quick look at the FreelanceSwitch post Monster List of Freelance Job Sites 2011 is pretty depressing reading. Jesse Orndorff remarks in the comments section of this post how for him to hit his monthly goals he has to make contact with about 40 postings (freelance work opportunities) on a freelance job site, of which he might win 5 or 6 jobs.  Interestingly though he says that the key to getting these jobs is to let your personality shine and give them (potential clients) a strong feel of who you are.  In other words it’s not always about the money – it’s about the individual.  Prospective clients do need reassurance that they can rely on individuals to whom they hand the work. A small job done badly or not on time can throw a whole project.  Building trust is the key and it’s at this point that talent communities step in.

Still in a very nascent stage talent communities (not to be confused with talent pools or databases!) are all about interactive peer-to-peer relationship building between the client and the candidate / independent worker. As John Sumser of Two Color Hat and Lucian Tarnowski of BraveNewTalent explain in this video posted by Jobsite, just as we are seeing consumer brands focus increasingly on building relationships with their consumers, so we are beginning to see a shift away from the transactional based job site recruitment process to brands looking to build real relationships with potential workers.   For brands to achieve this, associating either with existing trusted communities of workers or building their own talent communities seems to make sense. Brave New Talent appear to be leading the way in Europe in this area working with many big names including the BBC, Tescos, L’Oreal and Deloittes.

As an independent worker, belonging to these type of communities could well become a normal way of finding work.  But to be part of these communities does mean engaging with them and with this comes the necessity to build online social capital which even now is time consuming – and this is before the general population’s on board.  I just wonder what will happen though once everyone joins in the community game and we’ll have the whole world conversing like crazy to be noticed to get that job.  Only time will tell…

This brave new world of digital nomading may well seem like hard work for many. But to  leave on a lighter note I’ll pass over to digital nomad veteran Phil Campbell who knows how to stay one step ahead of the game and can spot a hot new trend in any market and develop it.  So watch out for Phil’s Digital Nomad Jacket because if this takes off he’ll have to nomad no more ;o)

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The Revolution will not be televised…

The Revolution will not be televised by Gil-Scott Heron in 1974:

Cyberwar has been declared and the battle is underway.  Julian Assange is sitting in Wandsworth prison almost living out some thriller while Anonymous pulls the plug on anti-Wikileaks sites with the mantra:

We are Anonymous.
We are the Internet.
We are Everywhere.
We are You.

In the first of no doubt many, luminaries from the internet world were mobilised and convened at a flash conference “Symposium on Wikileaks and Internet Freedom’ yesterday.  It wasn’t really publicised, yet within a few hours of retweets over 2 800 people globally had amassed to watch the livestream and contribute via Twitter – including Anonymous and Wikileaks.  “Wikileaks is watching,” said Micah Sifry, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum “They just retweeted this.” Revolution was in the air with #pdfleaks gathering pace until the spam bots moved in and we moved to #newstructures.  Shifting channels is no big deal in cyberspace.

Mark Pesce set the scene ,  a few soundbites to set the tone:

Arianna Huffington: It’s not the job of the media not to protect power from    embarrassment.

Jeff Jarvis : We are moving from a world structured on power-to-power to world structured on peer-to-peer.

Jay Rosen: It took the 1st State-less organization in the world to show how State-ist our regular media is.

Jeff Jarvis: We need to move to default of transparency… government should be transparent by default and secretive by necessity.

Dave Winer: Net neutrality is over. When sites are shut down because they don’t like the content it is over.

Arianna Huffington: There is a difference between secrecy and #privacy, the govt is outright lying to us!

Dave Winer: We’re not safe when corporations have the ability to shut us down

“The privilege of secrecy is something we extend to our government. As a privilege.”

Andrew Keen: The world doesn’t work without trust and it doesn’t work without secrecy.

Dave Winer: We’re not safe when corporations have the ability to shut us down.

Audience member: We wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for what Manning allegedly did…

Audience member: Can we open this discussion to include other parts of world instead of America-centric ..

Emily Bell: US press coverage for past 10 years – the controlling mind-set has been “national security.” Too close to establishment?

@DanielSchuman: Funny that there’s talk about creating structures to support WikiLeaks, which says that structures aren’t needed

Andrew Keen: In journalism – maybe the power lies with the leaker..

Andrew Keen: But who has the new power? I think google/facebook – those who hold the trump card

Andrew Keen: The spectacle of secrecy

Douglas Rushkoff: The net is a great illusion of democracy right now—but it’s an illusion… It is completely top-down and centralized.

Nobody knows where this is going to lead exactly – we are at the birth of something new – or there again may be it’s just a continuation of a theme which is not so new…. perhaps Gil Scott-Heron is still speaking to us nearly 40 years on??

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