Tuesday, 22 March 2011

TED UPDATE. Bill Gates and the one man ovation

It's getting bigger.

The new batch of TED speeches are out there and words are not ready for the onslaught of revelations.

Future-facing media people are even now having new adjectives developed to describe them.

Future-scoping, thought-nurturing, awesometric concepts are on their way.

Concepts so innovative and mesmerising you'd need a field of stricken Carl Sagans to gawp at them.

Swooning media-commentators are mouthing half-formed imprecations of cosmic idolatry at their Ipad2 screens.

'Light needs darkness,'  Rogier Van de Heide tells us.   It's a sentiment I could buy  as Beverly Hills clothes shop philosophy, but as 'a riveting idea from a remarkable person, free to the world', it's right up there with 'nothing brings out the taste of cheese like a cracker.'

'No one was a hero, because everyone was a hero' says some Egyptian guy as he brought month-old news of the Egyptian revolution to us, unaware of the irony as he sucked up all the TED credit.

How about Deb Roy and his 'Natural Longitudinal Data'?  What is that, you ask?  It's video.   The fellow filmed his family from pinhole cameras over what seems like forever.  'The longest home video ever'. Big laugh, though why calling it its proper name should be funny, I don't know.

In this way the audience maintains the pretense that what an idiot does with 50 year old technology is in any way awe-worthy.

David Brooks 'taps into the insights in his latest book'  goes the hype for a talk entitled 'The Social animal'.  The excitement to be generated by a man's familiarity with his own recent publication can only be imagined.

So against the spectacle of a social media guru sustaining himself on his own lactated guff, it was thoroughly pleasant  to watch Bill Gates at work.

Did he imagineer a future?  Did he time-sculpt ? Did he posit cultural memes?  Did he aspire to world of social animals emoting hope and expressing their communities in wireless clouds of mind-scat?

Nope. Bill Gates knows how the world works.  He would have taken a phone call from Mr TED asking him to appear. 

'What's it about?'

'Well, Bill, it's about inspiring the next generation,  celebrating the opportunities offered by new technology bringing about benign change'.

Pause, while Bill makes a note, then...

Bill Gates
'OK.'  See you Thursday.

He would have then wondered how to achieve that. Not at how the whole future of technology can be attributed to him. He's got that. He knows that mind-bending space-twaddle doesn't solve problems. He just looked at some data and figured out a way to improve the future.

Come Thursday,  Bill Gates tips up in his best woolly jumper and stands centre stage like a badger making apologies for the absence of a Russian Dance troop.

He then makes an unfussy, finance director's speech about the abject mismanagement of California's education budget. 

Ha! He talked common sense reality at a TED conference.  And they couldn't arrest him for breaking TED rules because he's Bill Gates, right?

He had full grasp of his data, and studiously took the audience through the issue, leaving no one in any doubt as to what needed to be done and the immense improvements that would follow.

Standing ovations are usually obligatory at TED,  but not for this feat of inappropriate behaviour.  The responses was muted, confused even.  He might as well have read out a knitting pattern for all the sense he made to the bullshit seekers.

But watching the video (sorry, the natural longitudinal data) we just have time to glimpse one chubby man on his feet in a centre aisle, clapping like seal over the side of its pool. A seal who'd obviously been asleep the whole time and just assumed he'd missed something vaguely inspiring about nothing in particular.

Monday, 21 March 2011

It's time to discuss that Halifax ad.

Yesterday, a banker was fired from his bank for waving a tenner at a group of protesting NHS workers from his office window.  His name is Romain Camus.  His namesake, Albert, once wrote that the man who doesn't cry at his mother's funeral will end up going to the gallows.  The point being that you don't fuck with prevailing public opinion.

In the 1980s Harry Enfield did a similar joke with a character called 'Loadsamoney'.   But that was a quarter century ago.   Average salary at Romain's bank is about £350,000 so it was a reasonably judged office gag and one which did nothing but support the NHS workers point about the injustice of UK life.  The trouble is, timing.  From the bank's point of view Romain's gesture was rather like a Nazi torturer doing armpit farts at the Nuremberg trials.

Which takes us naturally to that Halifax ad.  The cleanest, most inviolate humans ever to run a bank's radio station.  You know, bank radio stations.  You've got your cash machines, your mortgage advisors, your counters, pens, deposit boxes, then upstairs there's management, admin, radio station and Bureau de Change.    That's it. Right in between the sheep dip and the hosiery section.  

I forgive the creative team for the device of the radio station.   The brief for the campaign came as a response to public perceptions of bank profligacy, Halifax's previous ads being big, wanky production numbers.   So the conversation presumably went...

'Hey, how about if we forget telly.'
'Yeh, too profligate'
'Yeh, like maybe we should do like a launch of like a Halifax radio station?'
'Hey, that could be really cool'
'Yeh. Could be really great.'
'They could play like songs about money'
'Be really great.'
'Yeh, and have like interviews and financial advisors'
'Be really great'
'Be really cool'
'Really great'
'Really cool'

Not a bad plan.  Till the agency said 'Not radio, there's no margin.  Turn it into telly and we'll sell it'.

All good, though.  

But then came the city boys, with their beautiful wives from Spearmint Rhino, who committed  the most astonishing mass heist in history.  A crime so massive in scale that we are unable to fit it in our brains.    They stole from everybody.  In every direction.  When they took clients' billions and invested them in risky mortgages, which  then became collateralised debt obligations, which were then valued higher the riskier they were, and were in any case rated as AAA by complicit rating agencies, it was your billions they were using, spending on Petrus and motorbikes.  They gambled without risk.  One incompetent Hong Kong trader made such losses he was fired, with a £10 million pay off.  Tax free. By pocketing the proceeds and passing on  losses you and me and old people and babies all over the world will pay for the rest of our lives.


But as the banks then had to be saved from collapse, to prevent something silly happening, like money ceasing altogether and people having to do dances and juggle to pay for groceries, bankers still persist.   They must still walk amongst us, rather than be put down humanely as they would be if they'd merely been dogs that had chewed your face off.

So what must bankers do now?  Be nice.  Not just nice.  Halifax advert girl nice.    Blonde, nubile 20 year old nice, with 6 year old brain and a vagina stuffed with butterflies.  You know, so fucking nice, that she will watch with riveted attention as a work colleague pushes a mixing desk slider lest its plastic grooves injure the underside of her pinkie.

It's not just the girls.   And not just Halifax.   Nat West's caring counter staff are just as genital-less in the Helpful Banking posters.  Scrubbed simpletons, chosen for vacuousness, brains extracted and faces gurning with compliance.  But why do they have to do this?  If I need to discuss a mortgage I don't want a Japanese sex doll,  I want someone who possesses the appropriate forms.    All these sweet, youthful, white-teethed virgins are here to stop you thinking about that thing that just happened.  Ignore the fact that you just glimpsed NatWest horse-whipping your terrorised family as they lay chained to the radiator in a shit-smeared back room.  That didn't happen.  We're nice.  You must be mistaken.

Back to that Halifax ad.  The scene in which the lovely, toasty, caring mug of tea was dropped said it all.  The team must have discussed it at length, for it drips with significance, the way a trampoline in a 15th century Italian painting was never just a trampoline.   The dropped mug is there to tell us this.

'Despite the inordinate care we took to avoid crashing the entire banking system and you having to pay us back, it was JUST AN ACCIDENT.  And everything's fine. The mixing console needs a wipe  but no harm done.  Everything's fine.  Not to worry.' 

Or are they calling us mugs, like Romain?