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Social Media - What the…?

I had my first mobile phone in the early 1990s. It was a Motorola ‘Brick’, or more technically a DynaTAC 8000X, which, by today’s standards, was heavy, awkward and frankly not very good, but back then, less than 20 years ago, it was a complete and absolute miracle and revolutionised communication.

Having said that calls were extremely expensive, battery life was pathetic, the network coverage was scant and, being quite weighty, there was no way of pocketing the  damn thing. The best one could do was either a belt-clip or shoulder-strap, both of which were uncomfortable, appeared ostentatious and looked as if one was ‘packing heat’! But the die had been cast and freedom and instantaneous communication suddenly became possible and everybody wanted one. It was only a couple of years later that we realised we hadn’t really got that much to say and worse: the freedom tool meant that the world could access you anywhere!

 I can’t actually remember when ‘texting’ came on the scene; it wasn’t something for which I had an immediate use. It was the younger generation who started the revolution. Well-heeled kids were (over)indulged with a mobile phone by doting parents, and soon every kid on the block HAD to have one, whether begged, borrowed or stolen – and there was a ready trade in ‘hooky’ mobiles before more sophisticated security systems brought this black market under some kind of control.

The big attraction about text messaging was that it was much cheaper than voice calls. But the by-product of text was that suddenly a new language of abbreviation and acronyms, constrained by 160 characters, was flooding the airwaves. It was English, but not as we knew it, and soon the language of Shakespeare, Dickens and Churchill was being assailed by “c u l8r” and “OMG” and “LOL” and even “RUMCYMHMD” (are you on medication ‘cos you must have missed a dose?). Eventually I started to text too, but I forswore using ‘textspeak’, adhering stuffily to the Queen’s English, with punctuation and grammar, which made my messages necessarily succinct and possibly a little curt.


As if all this was not enough, a geeky guy in America called Mark Zuckerberg had an idea that we’d all like to be much more socially dynamic, and Facebook was born. For a long while this was a phenomenon of the personal computer and I had no idea what Facebook was. I didn’t understand it and consequently I didn’t need it. But while I was in denial this new and strange marvel leapt the technology divide between computer and mobile phone and morphed into ‘Social Media’, spawning a clutch of clones and imitators, which twittered and linked and blogged around the World Wide Web, which itself was new, daunting, exciting, but strangely liberating.


 So here we are today with access to infinite communication, limitless information and vast global markets, made possible by a handful of people who, had you met them at a drinks party, would probably have held your attention for milliseconds. None-the-less these human icons of the last 20 years, Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the world wide web), Bill Gates (Microsoft) Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak (Apple) and the aforementioned Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), have so changed our world that I for one can hardly remember the limitations with which we grappled only 25 years ago.

 I’m still retarded in my social media activity. It is nice to keep in touch with friends and family and to read and see what’s important to them, but I still don’t really ‘get it’. I’m bewildered by some of its devotees need to splash every aspect of their lives across the ether. There also seems to be a superfluity of poor quality images of young ladies hugging each other during apparently unruly, alcohol-induced carousing every weekend. This is followed 12 hours later with lurid reports of how bad the subjects feel with monumental hangovers. This is an activity, which fortunately our young men have not seen fit to emulate too often, being apparently more circumspect in their news broadcasting. It’s the dissemination of personal detail that I find hard to understand. I’m a pretty private sort of chap, so I’m not proposing to regale you with intimate details from my doctor or what I’m having for dinner. But if the spirit moves me, I might have a waspish snipe at friends with amusing issues.

But massive progress though these innovations are, here we are amid the deepest global recession in living memory, in spite of (or possibly because of…?) the immense power furnished by these technologies. No one has yet invented an effective crystal ball with which we can see the future. The soaring complexity and interconnectivity of this planet’s societies, environments and resources lead me to suspect that no one really has any real understanding of the ‘big picture’. Selfish national interests will need to be set aside before we get anywhere near a cogent world vision, and I think you’ll find that neither you nor I will be too keen in voting for such an altruistic solution. I’m not too daunted by this prospect being a firm believer in the infinite power of human adaptability. But it’s not a bad idea for all of us to raise our heads from the furrow every now and then to try to determine our own bearing, objective and goal as part of that big picture – I think you’ll find the view’s better too!

On a less global and more personal topic, I have recently been involved in several aspects in the life of Country Attire as a significant internet retailer. As season succeeds season the new ranges of products are selected and ordered. Typically, decisions on seasonal ranges are made at least nine months before they are actually presented to the public. So I’m currently undertaking a lot of HD photography for the autumn/winter 2012/3 range from Barbour, Hunter, Joules, John Partridge, Liberty Freedom, Johnstons and others. I must say there’s some really nice stuff coming through, although I’m not allowed to say too much and certainly can’t show you any pictures. But knowing our customers I know they are going to love much of the new range which should start appearing on our website in late summer.

Oh, almost forgot, Country Attire has been short-listed for both the prestigious BT Retail Week Awards 2012 and also the PayPal Drapers Awards 2012. This is the first time we’ve been ‘up’ for any awards and we’re very proud to have been selected. I’ll let you know later in the year how we get on, but I think it is one of those milestones in the evolution of a successful company when its peers begin to recognise and appreciate that the organisation is doing things rather well.