THE DEATH OF NUANCE

The good, the bad, and the nothing in between

Futurists and soothsayers of all varieties predict so many deaths of cultures, eras and fashions that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Death makes a much more striking headline than to warn of demise, so I make no apology here for announcing the death of subtlety and adding another corpse to our ever expanding cultural obituary.

I blame politics. Nuance has been looking sickly for a number of years but rigor mortis really set in some time mid 2016, just before the dreaded elections. Over the course of the summer and pushing into late Autumn the western world turned fully binary. You were either in or out, either on the left or the right, there was no in between. Politics has always been adversarial, with its two party bias whipped up by the media, but something was different this time. Each of us set up camp firmly in one territory or the other and hunkered down, right through into the new year…and there’s no sign of things easing yet.

I blame the media. The BBC and CNN, in fact all of them, talk to us like Blue Peter presenters. In gently lilting tones they simplify things for us to digest, like Mummy cutting up our food. The relentless drip, drip, drip of reassuring reasonableness has taken its toll. We have become infantilized. Everyone is either a goodie or a baddie.

If you are good you vote left. That’s the caring, sharing thing to do. You distrust big business, love the European Union and relish every dystopian warning on climate change you read. If you are bad you vote right. You love big business (since it probably made you rich) hate foreigners and believe climate change is a conspiracy. Surely, even the oikiest of oiks amongst us knows these polar positions could not bear the gentlest scrutiny, and yet this is precisely where we increasingly feel most comfortable.

I blame Facebook. It’s the most powerful forum ever invented but it’s no place for nuance. Our silly social avatars must only be seen faking the thrill of being alive, clinking glasses, peace-signing and mugging to camera. Every tiny, insignificant event in our friends’ lives is offered up as something we must like, heart or cry over. If we fail to decorate our page with the flag of the nation of the latest victim of terrorism, we may ourselves slip into the bad category, amongst the ‘friends’ best avoided. And when they poke fun at a ‘bad’ politician or celebrity we have a thumbprint’s chance to join them and show the world that we are good, not bad like the bad man. This isn’t debate, it’s whack-a-mole politics. We’ve become babies.

I blame Twitter. How can an argument be constructed in 140 little letters? It’s a terrific tool for missile shaped comment and observation but these staccato sound bites can hardly be expected to encourage fluid debate. They merely offer themselves up for us to love or ignore. You’re either with me or against me. Snap decisions force us to go binary and sucker us into joining the consensus. After all, it saves so much time.

But we’ve recently entered a much more dangerous binary phase. In the rush to be outraged and signal our universal goodness we are picking on dull, bird shit spattered statues and demanding they be removed for representing bad deeds. Even lonely old Nelson high above Trafalgar Square, who hasn’t been bothered for 180 years (unless you include John Noakes in 1977) has suddenly become a target.

This binary frenzy threatens our biggest brands too: Secretive Apple, censorious Google and tax dodging Amazon must learn to live on a cliff’s edge, knowing that at any minute the tide may turn against them. These three money making monsters are not just big business, they supply us with the tools for modern life and yet, as crucial as they are, they are more vulnerable than perhaps any of us realize. If, say, we turn against Google for being too manipulative, it might just find itself in the bad column. If it does, it will surely crash to earth as swiftly and as heavily as General Robert E Lee bit the Virginia dust.

Even lower profile brands cannot hide from the Outrage Hunters. Let’s scan a few high street names: Tesco, Sports Direct, John Lewis, Rapha, Walmart. Lululemon, JC Penney, Burger King, T Mobile….don’t be shy. You know which camps they fall into.

I am not normally one to fret over the domination of social media. I believe the planet has just opened up for all of us and the benefits of the digital age are only just becoming clear. I do hope, however, that the fashion for binary opinion on everything and anything is just that, a fashion.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Sep 04, 2017   Apple, Brand, Future, Retail, shopping, 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:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

 

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

SAN FRANCISCO: The King is Dead!


San Francisco is getting a new king.  I know this because the battle for power has left a dark, gaping hole at its very heart, on the elevated corner of Union Square. For this was where the mighty Levi’s flagship stood as a mecca and monument to the garment that dressed the world and changed it forever. But now in the very city that denim was born, there’s a ghostly void, a chasm that tells a tale of how things have changed here, and so very quickly.


Poor old Levi has not had an easy time of late. In perhaps the most competitive and nuanced fashion market there is, his historic indigo cotton has lost much of its cool to younger, louder types. Levi’s is a brand that carries almost universal love. Everyone has stories and fond memories to share, but too few actually buy. To be relegated from its proud Union Square pedestal is humiliating enough, but to watch its beautiful home annihilated is surely a stinging slap in the face for such an iconic and famously indigenous brand. So now, the busy cranes and earth movers dance upon poor old Levi’s grave to make way for a shiny new shrine; a palace made of glass nonetheless, designed by the world’s finest maker of glass palaces, Sir Norman Foster. Only the richest company on the planet would have the audacity to dethrone the old King of San Francisco in such a public manner. Yes, it’s Apple.


You can well imagine the board meetings at Levi’s that spruced up the language of this deposition as ‘bringing it’s flagship back to the people’, but it’s not convincing anyone. This was a battle of the icons, and the richest and cleverest won. It seems this new age of retail has turned everything upside down. Denim, the ultimate symbol of cool, has been out-cooled by the nerds that made technology trendy. Marlon Brando would be appalled.


The king chose well. Apparently, Steve jobs personally called Sir Norman Foster to ask for help a few years back, and the first results of their little chat opened in Istanbul in May this year. From the top of the brand new Zorlu shopping centre the new Apple store looks like a giant MacBook. He didn’t let them down.


Foster is also busy on what must surely be one of the most difficult design jobs ever: none other than Apple’s HQ in Cupertino. This will truly be the home of the world’s greatest superpower. The colossal spaceship that sits at the centre of its 170 acre site will house 13,000 bright young things. Steve Jobs wanted the space to reflect the Californian landscape he grew up in. Now there’s a brief.

So, while San Franciscans await the imminent arrival of their new king they are at least allowed a glimpse of some deliciously tantalizing artist’s impressions of the new royal residence, and magnificently minimalist it promises to be. The toughest taskmaster, the world’s greatest architect and a mind-blowing budget must surely give us the eighth wonder. Watch this space.

The King is dead, long live the King!



  Howard Saunders   Aug 28, 2015   Apple, Brand, city, Levi's, Retail, San Francisco, shopping   0 Comment   Read More