THE SELF-PHONE part 2: Bedside Manner

So now that we’ve established the smartphone is the greatest and most disruptive innovation since fire, the wheel, the computer and even sliced bread, we can begin to plot its true potential.

With our GODs (Great Overlords of Data) clutched to our breasts we are more empowered today than at any time in history. The question is what will we do with such immense power, or perhaps more importantly, what wonders will the power of data bring us that we haven’t even conceived of yet. Evolutionarily speaking we’ve only just been granted such privileged access to all human knowledge and, in turn, we have barely begun to upload our own data: our personal preferences, tastes and medical histories. This is where it gets really interesting. GOD’s thirst for ever more knowledge is unquenchable and you can be sure the size of his file on you will grow exponentially over the coming decade.

One of the consequences of this is surely the demise of your friendly GP. She may be in fine fettle, if a little stressed, so I’m sorry to report her job will become redundant long before your London cabbie hangs up his tweed cap and an autonomous vehicle whisks you off to work.

The driverless car has become the Kardashian of technology, grabbing all the headlines, full of promise as it flaunts its rotund posterior on California’s six lane highways. Terrified of missing out, every motor manufacture worth its salt is clamouring for a slice of the sexy autonomous limelight, whilst poor millennial geeks are tasked with the impossible job of plotting every gutter and manhole cover on London’s knotted streets. It’s not easy.

But meanwhile, quietly in the background, Google is working on another AI project, but one that is far more life changing than a car whose steering wheel you don’t have to touch. Google’s Deepmind Health technology uses machine learning to analyse medical data and, although it’s very early days, the speed and accuracy of the diagnoses is impressive. Microscopic discrepancies in eye scans, for example, can pinpoint the early stages of a multitude of diseases. Currently Deepmind is partnering politely with the NHS on a few pilot schemes, but just consider what happens when this technology comes directly to us.

At the same time, Apple is working on monitoring technology that makes your Fitbit look, well…like a Fitbit. Apple’s ResearchKit program hoovers up data from its enormous pool of global iPhone users, on an hourly basis if necessary, to build apps that know more about specific conditions and diseases than any doctor could dream of in a thousand lifetimes.

When Steve Jobs launched the App Store, on July 10th 2008, he had just 552 apps for download. By 2013 a million apps were available. This is exactly the level of growth we can expect for wellness, and medical apps too. If the sharing of information is ultimately what makes our species so powerful, then just imagine how far the access to all this knowledge will propel us. It is truly exciting.

The iPhone is a fast learner. It can diagnose early stage Parkinson’s by analysing balance, gait and memory with data collected from its inbuilt gyroscope. Using the camera, facial recognition algorithms can diagnose autism in children as young as eighteen months. Conditions such as asthma, concussion, diabetes, melanoma and hepatitis C can all be better managed by patients armed with apps that can advise on a minute by minute basis. Add all this to a phone that will, more than likely, carry a map of your entire genome and we will have a clearer picture of ourselves than has ever been imagined.

Contrast that with the hurried consultation from your overworked GP who got a 2.1 from UCL in 1983. The best we’ve come to expect is some hasty keyboard rattling as she attempts to access your files and, if you’re lucky, a little eye contact too. This will all seem rather quaint very soon indeed. In a few short years we will have the greatest medical consultant of all time in our pockets during the day, and on the bedside table every night.

The Luddites that resist this change, that prefer to see ‘a real doctor’ whether from a sense of loyalty or from fear of privacy breaches, will soon succumb once they watch their friends flourish as they take control of their lives.

So relax. The great disruption has arrived. Dr Google, Dr Apple and Dr Watson will see you very shortly.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:

  Howard Saunders   Mar 15, 2017   face recognition, Future, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

THE SELF-PHONE part 1: Political Meltdown

Be honest. To say that you’re addicted to your mobile is a gross understatement. It’s the first thing you squint at in the morning and the last thing you see before you fall asleep. You check it in the middle of the night when the bathroom beckons and check it at the traffic lights between depressing the clutch and engaging neutral. This is no faddish obsession with new technology. It’s goes much further, much deeper than that.

You turn to your mobile for literally, everything and it would be easier to list the things you don’t use it for, than do. You ask it everything too, from the dates of sixties number ones to the height of the actor you’re semi-watching on TV. So used to instant answers are we, that pub based disputes are now limited exclusively to opinions of Trump and Brexit. Yes, the drinking man’s unique ability to recall trivial statistics has been emasculated by Google. Yet another blow for middle aged men.

When your house is burning, of course, the iPhone must be saved before you struggle with pyjama bottoms. When your daughter sits down to break some serious news, there’s still a couple of free micro-seconds, as she takes a deep breath, to sneak a peek at your Samsung smartphone (sorry guys, a Galaxy will always be a chocolate bar) to see if somebody else out there needs you. ‘Are you listening to me or what?’ ‘Yes, yes, I’m waiting to hear from the bank, sorry darling.’ The love affair is complete: it’s turned us into compulsive liars too. It’s as if we’ve all regressed into needy six year olds, in constant need of attention and affirmation of our existence. ‘Mummy, Mummy, look at this.’ ‘What is it dear?’ As we grew up it slowly dawned on us that Mummy wasn’t really that interested in the microscopic details of our existence after all. She was pretending. But now we all have a friend that really is.

The cellphone has become the self-phone. It’s a part of us now. When we reach into a pocket or purse to press the tiny touch button with the tip of our finger, we are connecting to all human knowledge from the Great Overlord of Data, to GOD himself, just as Michelangelo depicted Adam. The screen lights up to tell us we are alive and at the centre of the universe. There’s no going back now.

Incidentally, how many times have you glanced at your GOD since you started reading this? Two, three maybe? You are not alone.

Without question, Steve Jobs’ legacy is the iPhone. Not anything else beginning with a lower case i. I have the extreme condensed version of man’s evolution in front of me. It reads: Fire, Wheel, iPhone. (IBM can just shut up about Simon)

Seriously though, Mankind was the ape that mastered communication. It’s how we learnt to build fires, wheels and smartphones. But now that we are finally all connected on this planet, we are only just beginning to witness the almighty power that will be unleashed. News organisations struggle to keep pace with Twitter feeds. The leader of the ‘free world’ demonstrates his true strength with 140 characters, not via mundane press conferences. Much as this may be unpalatable, you must know this is the start of something big. If you think Uber upsetting a few cabbies and AirBnB aggravating the tax man is troublesome, then you’d better hold tight for the political revolution that is surely coming.

If the rise of populism is a slap in the face for the establishment, the angry reaction from the overlooked and the ordinary, then the only question we must ask is whether they will happily return to their quietly submissive roles of letting government get on with the complicated business of running the country. Judging by the yards of Twitter vitriol I read every morning, I think not. The disengaged are now fully engaged. Forever.

A handful of years ago we would have muttered our discontent as we turned the page to the sports results. Today’s leaders can only dream of such a remote and disinterested populace. So hear this Trump, Netanyahu, Merkel, May, even Putin, Assad and Erdogan. We’re all watching you now.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:


  Howard Saunders   Feb 20, 2017   Apple, big data, Future, me, me age, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More


Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Today we are so obsessed with looking in the rear view mirror that we forget to check the road ahead. We live in a state of constant fear of what will be and what might go wrong. We think optimism is for idiots and believe we live in the most dangerous and difficult time in recent history. It’s simply not true.

Exactly one hundred years ago, the early twentieth century was a roller-coaster ride for Americans. First up they had to deal with segregation and the Jim Crow laws, followed swiftly by a small matter known as World War One. The mood recovered a bit with The Jazz Age, but they soon paid for all the fun when Prohibition took hold, followed of course, by The Wall Street Crash and then The Great Depression. All this in the space of twenty years. And you think you live in turbulent times?

Our love affair for all things lost extends to, and even enthusiastically embraces, America’s more embarrassing history, including Prohibition. A century on, it has become distinctly fashionable to reminisce about the bad old days. Our contemporary lexicon, particularly in hip bars and restaurants, celebrates the words ‘speakeasy’ ‘dive bar’ ‘bootleg’ and ‘moonshine’ as if we yearn for the restraints that come with good old government intervention. We’re a contrarian bunch. Today, our liberal society reminisces openly about an illiberal one. We tingle with excitement at the thought of historic austerity whilst passionately despising the contemporary version. We love the idea of discipline as long as it doesn’t actually include us. And we simply relish the thought of being the outlaw, as long as we’re warm and secure within the high walls of make believe. We are little more than naughty school children playing at being grown up.

Speakeasy culture has an obvious and innate post apocalyptic appeal. Speakeasies are illicit, associated with local gangsters and best of all, hidden away behind secret doors, guarded by doormen armed with passwords and unlicensed pistols. By their very nature these places are the antithesis of commercialism. They exist hidden from the mainstream, anonymous and unsigned, with restricted access only for those ‘in the know’. What’s not to love?

And wasn’t hardship so gloriously photogenic back then? Long lines of the tweed-capped and the broken. Toilworn women with thousand yard stares clutching grubby faced children in oversized hand-me-downs. Of course, these ghosts of the past free us from the stench, the relentless belly ache of hunger, the terrible fear for the survival of our children and the heartache of watching our starving parents grow sick. Over time, all this pain and suffering has been gently distilled, like moonshine itself, from an ugly, pestilent reality into a palatable aperitif. The Great Depression was too long ago, and we are far too comfortable for there to be any hope of empathy. The best we can do is to fake sympathy. How terribly those poor people suffered, we cry. But boy, did they look cool!

Today’s speakeasies are, thankfully, a far cry from the original but it’s no coincidence their siren call, the allure of the illicit and the inaccessible was revived immediately after the recent financial calamity. What better way to romanticize the current crisis whilst at the same time harnessing it for good, old fashioned commercial profit.

Here are a few of our coolest New York drinking hideaways:

The Back Room can be found at the end of a passage behind a gate that reads ‘The Lower East Side Toy Company’. The scruffy entrance door simply reads ‘Deliveries Only’. Their more exclusive VIP room is hidden behind a fake bookshelf where cocktails are served in tea-cups and beer bottles wrapped in brown paper bags.

Apotheke is dressed up like an old European apothecary complete with vials and features plenty of absinthe on the cocktail list along with ingredients picked from their rooftop garden.

PDT (Please Don’t Tell) is, alas, a secret no more. Famously entered via an old phone booth (from where you have to call to give the password) it sits behind Crif’s Hot Dog shop so you can enjoy a cocktail with your chili dog.

Employees Only, a noisy little joint tucked away in the West Village has a fake Psychic shopfront complete with neon sign and fake psychic in the window (aren’t they all?) Famous for two things: late night burlesque shows on Sundays, and the fact that all its bar staff have an Employees Only tattoo. That’s loyalty for you.

Bathtub Gin is hidden inside a Chelsea coffee shop. A red light on a nondescript door is the only hint of something ‘illicit’ inside. And yes an antique bathtub is the centre-piece.

The Blind Barber is, as it suggests, a barbershop by day, but at night it magically transforms into a dimly lit hipster cocktail lounge.

Cheers! Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:

  Howard Saunders   Feb 07, 2017   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More


Oh dear reader, I know you are a decent and upstanding citizen, that much is unquestionable. You consider yourself honest and good, for you have, these past dozen or so years, served your customers well, with consideration, loyalty and appropriate grace. But this past year has been particularly testing. The twist and turn of events has taken you by surprise and set you somewhat adrift at sea. So much so, it would seem, that fear, it is fair to say, has settled like ash in your heart. Don’t get me wrong, a casual observer or, say, a brief encounter with a would-be client would pass without undue comment or any sense of unease on their part. A prolonged and more intimate social interaction, however, is sure to uncover a whole host of demons that you can no longer conceal.

You did not ask for these demons to visit, but visit they surely did. Each morning, without fail, you awake to the daily news, the doomsayers and gloom-mongers, the relentless hum that, though alluring in its strangely seductive tone, is the unmistakeable voice of impending disaster. If not the promise of immediate calamity, then always the gentle, incremental steps that certify the world is headed toward the fiery gates.

Then, one fateful night as you laid in your bed, covers stretched tight to the moustache, the ghost of Christmas past took you gently by the hand and led you to the window. Whereupon you were whisked away to a snow laden world where grandparents smiled on warmly as you hastily unwrapped wooden puzzles and gender specific dolls. Oh what innocence! And who is this young gun, you enquire, as a tousle-haired youth bounds for the bus, briefcase swinging like a wrecking ball, chest puffed up with crisp winter air? Why, he’s off to change the world for good, of course. Ah yes, for he is the man you left behind. The man you forgot to be.

Ghost number two was very matter of fact showing you, without judgement, exactly what your life has become. There you are at your glowing screen, for twelve hours a day and more, poring over the intricacies of Excel like it’s a medieval tapestry. But it’s clear your eyes have become dulled by the burden of verisimilitude, for only you can fully understand the pressures on contemporary business. Only you can see how stark and stony the road ahead will surely be.

And so you are left to quake in your bed in dread of the third and final visitation: the ghosts of Christmas yet-to come. The room fills with a piercing chill. The shadows on the wall roll like pipesmoke into the form of a hand, its long bony, brexity fingers beckoning you toward the unknown. It’s grotesque and chinless visage made all the more bloodcurdling by the way it chortles as it sups from a ghostly jug of ale. You scream out loud for it to stop but your cries unleash another swirling, more terrifying phantom. Its wrinkled face emits an eery orange glow that lights the room. With its hair piled at an angle like a ghastly golden haystack it shouts in staccato, trumpet-like rhythm in tune to the chants of a baying mob of ne’er-do-wells and deplorables.

As if the nightmare could get no worse our dreadful duo is joined by a host of dancing spectres each bearing a ghoulish gift from the future: individual parcels clearly labelled with ominous monikers: ‘Isis’ ‘Climate’ ‘Amazon’ ‘Railstrike’ ‘Millennial’ ‘AI’ ‘AR’ ‘VR’ and ‘Big Data’. Oh, what a terrible, terrible omen is upon us!

The next morning you forego the news, kick back the covers and tear apart the curtains to flood the room with blinding sunlight. Yes, another day is here and what a wonderful day it is! No mist, no fog. Today you know you’re alive for you can feel the blood pumping through your tangled veins. ‘Today’ you vow ‘I shall eschew the spreadsheet and instead I shall shake the hand of each and every one of my beautiful customers. Yes, that’s what I shall do! I will thank them for everything they have done for me. Nay, I shall hug them, kiss them even!’

And so, dear friends, fear not the future as it will be what we shall make it. Free yourself from the festive fug, shake off the cloak of despair and join me on a whirlwind journey through the very best of Yuletide London. And what better place in the world to soak up the Christmas spirit?

God bless Us, Every One!

If you enjoyed my Christmas tale and shopping trip, please pass the link on to friends and colleagues. Oh yes, and join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:

Happy Christmas!

  Howard Saunders   Dec 14, 2016   Future, shopping, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More


Outside the airport a pothole the size of a small village tells you instantly the system here is broken. Sorry, I haven’t yet left. I’ve just arrived at JFK and am heading to Cuba before, as everyone keeps telling me, ‘the Americans ruin it.’

The welcome into Havana is unforgettable. Our pre-booked 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible in harbor blue, backfired away from Havana’s Jose Marti airport full of grins and sunshine, amid a gaggle of iphone wielding photographers. For a moment there I actually felt like a 1950s movie star, until the relentless diesel fumes stifled my fleeting fantasy. The air here is also blue thanks to all the things that keep the city moving: the ‘Nico Lopez’ oil refinery, the 2-stroke MZ motorbikes that wasp their way between the pastel sedans, and not forgetting the haze from the ubiquitous Lucky Strikes. These glorious automobiles don’t belch, but rather projectile vomit thick soot from their five inch exhausts. (The original gas-guzzling engines have been replaced by more economical crude-oil burning versions) Thankfully, those seductive postcard images of Havana we grew up with spared us the stench of outdated technology.

As we lolloped along the broken roads, past the foreboding Ministry of Interior, past the decaying colonial arcades and the blackened skeletons of Neo-Classical villas, past the queues for the payphones and the stray dogs that stand clueless in the middle of the road, it took about a mile and a half to realise that something is seriously awry.

Like proper tourists on our first morning we decided to take a guided tour to get a feel of the place: in a 1953 two-tone Ford Crestline sedan, obviously. Our tour guide, Marcia, was brilliant. In between the history book dates and stories of the revolution, we learnt of her fears for the tsunami of change that is about to hit the troubled tropical island.

The stars are aligning, literally. On Monday March 21st this year President Obama and his family breezed in for a quick tour of Havana in the pouring rain. It was the first presidential visit in nearly a century, but Fidel hid away in his bedroom. That Friday the grand old lizards of rock ‘n’ roll, the Rolling Stones, held an open-air free concert at the Ciudad Deportiva in the city centre. It’s hard to imagine a more painful reminder of all the fun Cubans have missed in half a century, than the leathered, septuagenarian skins of Mick and Keith strutting about in the local park.

As Mick said on the night, ‘Finally, the times are changing.” But ninety year old Fidel did not agree and surprised everyone by coming out of his bedroom, once Obama and the The Stones had left of course, to publicly deny the ‘Cuban thaw’. Fair enough. The Stones and the president must look like young whippersnappers to him.

Let’s be straight about this. In sticking to its admirable principles Cuba has denied itself the best half, the fun half, of the twentieth century. But do not fret, the digital age is here. Nightly television runs a three minute round up of all you need to know from today’s ‘internet’. Ingeniously entitled ‘INTERNET’ the segment is intro’d with a jingle that is a flagrant rip off of the Acorn Antiques theme. They should sue.

TV is hilarious here. It’s not so much from an earlier age as from a parallel universe where obscure 1980’s low budget American TV dramas are interrupted mid sentence to announce a documentary on ancient Tibetan art. Presumably, shows are only deemed acceptable if they don’t reveal anything corrupting about the wicked west. Clearly, this limits the choice somewhat.

Despite Fidel’s assertions Cuba is on the verge of revolution again, although not from bearded romantics. This time the revolution is bubbling up under the city’s green spaces. Head to one of the local parks after sunset and you’ll see groups of youths, their ghostly faces bathed in the light from their LG and Samsung smart-phones. You see! Of course Cuba has the internet. It may be forbidden in the home but all you have to do is queue in town to buy a scratch-card, head to the park’s wifi zone, then enter the sixteen digit code for your designated thirty minutes of the 21st century.

The outside world is, as we speak, seeping into Havana, albeit monitored and restricted by the squeaky valves of the communist party. Surely, the game is all but over. Allowing a little bit of internet, limited glimpses of all that you missed, all that you don’t have, and all that you want, must be seismic enough to signal the end for this life-numbing regime.

Look, we had a great time in this city. We found some cool Paladars to eat and drink in (these are the new, privately owned restaurants) met some wonderful people, visited a couple of lively street markets, drank aged rum and even smoked Montecristos at the Partagas cigar factory. It’s just that it feels a little uncomfortable being a visitor here, like we’ve come to gloat at the last breath of an endangered species. Which of course we have.

Food may be in short supply and household gadgets scarcer than a hen’s incisors, but the real famine has been in information. As Yuval Harari explains in his latest book Homo Deus (which I can’t recommend highly enough) information, or dataism as he calls it, is how mankind dragged itself from the swamp to build this messy, wicked, exciting free world. Cuba’s half century of isolation illustrates his point perfectly. Contrary to popular opinion it won’t be the warming of relations with the US that liberates Cuba, it will be access to the universally engaging, free-flowing, mucky internet. Viva la revolucion!

Postscript: Recent news of Fidel’s death removes an enormous, emotional hurdle in the way of change. However, Raul is seen as weak, so the Cubans right now will be feeling exposed and vulnerable. Even though so many have secretly wished for it, the death of your captor after fifty years can come as a serious shock. Let’s help ease Cuba into the twenty first century.

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  Howard Saunders   Nov 17, 2016   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More