Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Money Parade/Cybereconomicpunkland

Mona Lisa White Rabbit Blue : Makeshift Studios 2012

The Money Parade/Cybereconomicpunkland

Money is, actually – nod your head knowingly – worthless. It is, after all, cheap paper, though, we, as sentient individuals, invest it with meaning. Hence it possesses power and a double angle as a means of exchange and as a measure of value.

It also replaces the old barter system where, for fixing a leaky roof on your neighbour's mud hut we receive in return a bottle of, on offer, merlot from the local supermarket. (Note : we are stretching things here a little as the barter system was used in a time before Tesco/Walmart – though it may yet return!!)

Coinage jingles in our pockets, dollars, pounds sterling and euros fit neatly and snugly into our expensive designer label leather wallets – if we are lucky to have any cash and our wallets are not fake Guci as opposed to the real Gucci.

We purchase goods and services and pay with paper and coins as an intermediary resource for buying and – again if we are lucky – receive change in return, which then joins the coins in our pockets or the bills in our Guci or Gucci wallets.

We might feel a glow and stand back and admire our trading activities, chasing ‘designer’ brands at the centre of some screenpaly fantasy – I am sure you have seen the clever marketing and adverts, like we are seeking the proverbial crock of…gold…at the end of the consumer rainbow. Or, alternatively, if we are impoverished and poor we might dabble in the world of hand made fakes and counterfeits from under the table of the Saturday afternoon stallholder at open markets (no imaginary fantasy ad worlds or subliminal marketing needed here only real fake Guci).

A cul-de-sac of the massive underground or shadow economy which eventually finds its way back into the mainstream economy and, as commentators are quick to point out, helps keep the 'visible', regular economy from dipping under the financial waterline. Think about it, but please don't mention to George Osborne or Angela Merkel!

This world is often the habitat of those who are finding it very difficult to make ends meet, but it is only one small corner of that massive underground economy.

In difficult times people find it extremely difficult to find and maintain full-time, permanent, well-paid employment with, as we have hinted at before, substantial hours, and access to pension rights, sickness and holiday benefits. Often, such people are trapped in a system that they feel doesn't work for them and turn to work which might be cash in hand with no questions asked, no income reported or taxes paid - very ironic.

According to economist Edgar Feige of the University of Wisconsin, the shadow economy in the USA has doubled since 2009 and is now estimated to be worth $2 trillion (that is a heck of a lot of lost tax from the system). In real terms this amounts to something like 8 per cent of US GDP.

We also find that the loss of revenues to the US government is considerable and increasing. In 2001 it was estimated that $375 billion was lost in taxes unpaid by those working in the shadow economy, while over $500 billion was lost in 2012 because of unreported wages.

I find this fascinating. It is an area of the economy which kicks in with, is entertwined with and works alongside the mainstream economy and an area rarely visited. It is a bit like the interface between the contemporary economic universe and the digital, wired cybereconomicpunkland, that place we have yet to reach but are rapidly approaching - lower the undercarriage.

A truly huge and burgeoning and fertile landscape for exploration...but that's for another day...

Yer Long Road To The Lighthouse

I am, as I write looking out across the Atlantic ocean to America.  Someone said it was 3000 miles west - I am not walking it!

I am working on a few things as I travel, a piece for a newspaper in Argentina, which, in a strange way feels right.

Some of my family were or, indeed, might still be, Chilean sheep farmers.  This section of the family, or some parts of it, migrated east to Argentina, so I might be writing for people who are related to me.

I am also working on a piece I am calling 'Do Humans Dream Of Cyber Cash' and looking at the cyber economy.

I am, at present, at - what is known as - the Butt of Lewis, having just walked the jagged coastline for miles to get here.  The Guiness Book of Records has this area featured as the windiest place in the world.  Today, it is hot and sticky with very little breeze but the view from the cliffs is fantastic. 

Below me as I walked the last mile, gulls wheeled in the air currents and I tried to take some photographs  without getting too close to the ed


(If you have never been here put it on your bucket list.)

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Road To Nirvana : Civil Engineer In The Process Of Being Transformed Into Car

The Road To Nirvana, Businessman In The Process Of Being Trandformed Into A Car/Ka : Makeshift Studios 2012

You ever think about the discontinuity?

I heard some news this week about a character who features in one of my earlier blogs If On A Starry Spring Night A Traveller.  In the sterile surroundings of a motorway services just off the M6 this man's life unravelled before me.

He was a civil engineer and had travelled his whole life for his work.  As a young man he had worked and partied hard, married, had children, separated.

He had moved north from Manchester to work on a project on the east coast of Scotland and had taken up residence in Edinburgh.  His wife had become estranged from him and they had gone their own routes.

As we sat, that evening in Costa coffee, we had chatted and wiled away time until we returned our cars and gone on our journeys, he was heading south, I was travelling north. He had, I recall,  this wonderful rippling moustache that he kept playing with.  His eyes - and eyes they say are the road to the soul - were the windows to his being. Behind the laughter, was pain.

He spoke affectionately about the Italian girl he had met in the Scottish capital and they had set up home together.  He referred to her as his 'Italian beauty' but their fate was written in crossed destinies.

In time he received the offer of a job that would take him south once more, they discussed it, but she told him flat that there was no way she would leave her ailing mum to go and live in Manchester ( actually Michael eventually set up home in Blackburn when he moved south once more).

He moved south alone. 

All we ever really have our memories I suppose, and that's the thing about life, there really is no present because as soon - in that micro-second - we have lived has gone.  Time, for us all, is really a monster that eats up our existence as we make plans for greatness which, somehow, never arrives.

He met his ex-wife in Manchester by accident as they both waited ona train.  They had never divorced in the intervening years, and that meeting re-lit the fire they once shared.  For the next 18 years they would share their life together again, attending parties, family gatherings, weddings and funerals.

Sadly, I received an email from Michael's wife, Jennifer, this week, to tell me that he had died.  We had swapped emails in Costa, and he wrote to me after I published the blog to tell me that he never thought anyone would have been interested enough in his life to write about it!  He thought he was a pretty ordinary regular Joe, but, of course, none of us really are...

Michael had suffered a massive coronary while working in Leicester, he was 59...

How could I have imagined while speaking with Michael on that starry, spring evening, that he had already been dealt all the cards he would have to play with?

You ever think about discontinuity?

To Michael.

(Author's note : Change of plan the blog 'Absence of Light' I have decided needs to be held back and re-worked.  I am still travelling so I have scheduled 'The Money Parade/Cybereconomicpunkland' as the next blog - next week some time!  I have just finished an Illy coffee - my all -time favourite and I am now about to return to the road)

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


I am now officially, as opposed to unofficially, 'on the road' travelling.  I do intend to publish my blogs as I go, but as I am sure you techie savvys will be aware a lot depends on the wi-fi out at the edge of the world?

Anyway, my intention is to publish 'An Absence of Light' perhaps tomorrow or, at least Monday, and The Money Parade/Cybereconomicpunkland - you'll have noticed a double A-side - sometime next week!  I will be, as I travel, working on a piece for the Argentina Indpendent, taking notes on another piece I intend to write about social media, and also working on the Rush Hour project (two more sections in the pipeline so soon we will have eight written), as well as taking notes on the journey.  And, it seems a nice place to finish with reference to yet another 'journey'. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Travelling With Aliens

Travelling With Aliens: Makeshift Studios 2013

Travelling with Aliens was written this morning in a Starbucks in West Nile Street, Glasgow - 14/07/2013.  Note this is not an exerpt from Rush Hour : Journeys In Life, though Anna's story will be part of the project. Latest update, we are onto section seven and I am writing 'Summer In The City' with a quote from John Sebastian - the writer of the song 'Summer In The City'.

A recent interviewee for the Rush Hour project, Anna, tells a brilliant story about how she has journeyed to the job she does now.  But she also told me she travels three hours by train every day to go back and forth to work.

Interestingly, she makes it a strict rule while she journeys to work that she will only use her smart phone if the call is from a family member but no work or small talk with friends about friends or relationships, or anything to do with work with colleagues (unless it is absolutely urgent). She has also decided NOT to use her laptop, tablet or any other device, ( and there is now a wide selection : Kindle, Kobo, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus 7, Apple Ipad Mini, Asus MeMO Pad, Barnes and Noble Nook - who thinks up these titles?) while on board the express.

The only luxuries she takes with her are a cup of coffee bought on the train and her newspaper bought at the station.

She does, she tells me, recognise, many of her fellow commuters, and often nods to them as they wait the arrival of the train at the platform. Some, after years of familiarity on a train station platform, might even offer a few words (but only a few).

'Nice morning' the well-dressed young man with the floppy blonde hair might smile. She would respond in agreement and they might chat for a few minutes about the latest news headlines. A San Franciso air crash...oh...or a Paris train crash...ah...they shake their heads mutter platitudes...'awful'...the latest economic news...they both stare into the abyss.

Both fall silent, look down at their feet, their mood worsened by the encounter...thankfully the train arrives.

Alternatively, it might be the gushing blonde girl with the frizzy cascade of curls on top of her smiling face who engages her in conversation. Her stories are all about hen nights with her girlfriends that end up in disaster...'And then we lost Gertrude, she was drunk of course and being sick in the toilet, but we didn't know, and once we realised she was missing we had moved on two more clubs'... the girl (Heidi) giggles insanely, always laughs throws her head back in a great guffaw. Anna smiles politely, prays for the train to arrive.

Or, It might be Mr W., a smartly attired, mature gentleman who always gives Anna the latest report on his wife's ailments. 'He is a lovely, charming man but he must mistake me for a medical room doctor who has demanded a report on his wife's health.'

Once on board the train, she observes, the courteous and polite well-heeled, suited and booted young man, bubbly cascading curls, and the charming mature gentleman are quickly transformed, and all set about their business on mobile phone, laptop and tablet. In fact the carriages are full of fellow 'aliens' who are transformed once they cross the threshold of the train.

Frantically texting, making phone calls : 'As if the world will end if they don't make contact!'

'The financial news is bad Darren,'s not good...'

'Oh we had a wonderful night! Gertrude, oh no she's not been seen for the last three days...'

'Well, it's the wife you see, she's not so good, no, she's in bed with her stomach today.'

It is as if her stomach would remain in the front room watching television while Mrs W lies stricken in bed.

Anna watches them squirrel away time on their various devices, people shouting out their personal calls as if they were on the trading room floor. 'MARTINE IT'S JOAN, NO JOAN, I'M ON A TRAIN, YES, A TRAIN!' Or, 'HI TONY, IT'S BILL, SORRY, I'M IN A BIT OF PAIN AT THE MOMENT, ( he shifts around in his seat) DAMN HAEMORRHOIDS ARE PLAYING ME UP!'

Others, she observes, are banging hell out of their laptop or Tablet keyboards, probably posting messages on Facebook, or using the appropriate symbols playing Angry Birds.

Hardly anyone ever engages her in any sort of meaningful conversation on the train, instead Anna uses her precious three hours to think or read her newspaper or just gaze out at the beautiful countryside speeding past. She says she really enjoys the 'chill' factor of these journeys, surrounded, as she often feels by a sea of mayhem.

Wasn't it Shakespeare who said 'Life is but a poor shadow that struts and frets his hour on stage'...I think that is from Macbeth, please feel free to correct me if I have it wrong.

Around her, she observes, is a kind of technological anarchy, as bug-eyed, frenzied looking aliens shout out their private lives to the world, or bury themselves in their social media obsessions.

It is the transformation, Anna, a senior researcher, admits fascinates her. 'On the platform, they are perfectly normal human beings, but once inside the train carriage, out it comes, all their social network paraphernalia' she laughs. 'They are like aliens! It is like travelling with aliens', her eyes widen and she makes an 'alien' face.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Resonating Poem

We Are All Rabbits : Makeshift Studios 2013
This wonderful little - untitled - poem was sent to me by Shirley Duke.  She thought her poem resonated with the last blog Jay C and the Tenants of Zero Park.  I thought this was a great example of that interconnected pastiche I am always going on about.  Plus it gave me a chance to use the Makeshift Studios' We Are All Rabbits again.

So many dreams
So many closed doors
Where stood the boy child once
gazing along life's open road,
Now he's the man in shadow
of those million dreams untold.
Cherished ambition ground to dust
The tide of tears, humiliation
Stark defeat, no retaliation.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Sheep Revolution : Makeshift Studios 2013

Everybody, at some time or another in their lives, has hopes, ambitions and dreams. It is what keeps us all fired up through the dark times, and as we inch closer to those aspirations it's what lightens our mood. It is why we strive at school, at university, in work, so we can secure and maintain a lifestyle we can enjoy. We face challenges and work hard and hope to be valued and loved and cared about. All these efforts also fit many of our emotional, psychological and spiritual needs.

Me? I want to travel more, make contact with, talk to and write people's stories, and try and understand the world that spins so rapidly around us.

That's what the Rush Hour project is really all about.

But what happens when you hit the wall?

You hit the wall through no fault of your own. In fact, you have done everything right, everything the teachers, politicians and economists advised you should do. You have been a model citizen, student and worker, worked extremely hard and now you can't find a job with your university degree. Or you have toiled all your life only to be made redundant, discarded like an empty milk carton and forced to join the unemployment line. Your hopes, ambitions and dreams quickly crumble into dust. Opportunities to develop in your chosen field vanish, your lifestyle dissolves, you feel empty.

The contemporary problem, of course, is not unemployment but the persistence of high unemployment. We are five years into financial crisis and the numbers remain far too high. Overall, Europe has an unemployment rate of 12.1 per cent (May 2013), while the size of the problem within individual states varies enormously.

In Greece and Spain the unemployment rate hovers around 27 per cent, with youth unemployment (18-24) an astonishing 62 per cent and 56 per cent respectively. In Portugal unemployment stands at 18 per cent, Cyprus 15.5 per cent, Republic of Ireland 13.5 per cent and Italy 12 per cent.

But the data masks something else that lies deeper and more disturbing within our societies. A gradual slide toward lower wages and underemployment. A feature our elected representatives seem powerless or unwilling to do anything about it.

Young people for whom the future has been closed off and older, more mature workers no longer have any of the old certainties as redundancies increase, pensions attacked and welfare chopped.

I recently spoke with an ex-miner in a pub. Jay C was 58 and happy to chat to me about his life in the coal industry. He recounted the time when, at the tender age of 18, he and a colleague had been buried alive when a beam in the pit where he worked crumpled and the roof started to fall in on them. They managed, somehow, to clamber under some wooden tressels and call out for help. In those days they had a tannoy system that ran along the walls of the pit and they were able to use this to direct their fellow workers to where they were.

I saw him pause and raise his pint to his lips. He looked older than his 58 years. His skin was paper thin in the artificial light and crumpled around his eyes. Deep, unforgiving, lines were savagely cut into his forehead, his cheeks red and glowing, his hair sparse and greying. He had worked in the coal industry all his working life and told me that in 1965 an average of 4 miners a day lost their lives in the British coalfields.

Now, he was telling me that after 40 years, he had just been made redundant.
'Not even a f*****g carriage clock' he smiled. 'Just like that,' he clicked his fingers.

He then pointed out that Stephen Hester, the retiring CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland, is being given a £6 million handshake for five years work.

'How the f**k does that work?' He sounded perplexed. 'I worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week and get a few thousand in a works pension, and certainly not enough not enough to retire on. You tell me if that is fair? I wonder if Osborne thinks I am a shirker now?*'

He took another pull at his pint.

On the short walk home I passed the park near to where I live. I could see a group of youths by the entrance, some were on bikes, flatlanders, otherwise known as BMX, others were smoking and drinking from litre bottles of White Lightning (a brand of cheap white cider). They were loud and raucous, as teenagers fueled up on a Saturday evening tend to be, and I hurried past not wishing to engage them.

However, I had second thoughts and considered that these are the very people we should be speaking with. Aggressive, nihilistic and despairing, their teenage eyes already empty.

I thought about the ex-miner, nobody really seemed to care or was willing to do anything about his situation, just as no one seemed to care about these lost kids happily killing their brain cells in the park. Across the generations no one seemed to be able or willing to help any of them young or old, now they just looked for solace in alcohol.

What about all those hopes, dreams and aspirations? Lost in the haze of a drunken hour... I suppose ( with apologies to Morrisey).

* A reference to George Osborne's implied comment that the unemployed were shirkers.

Sunday, 7 July 2013


(Subtitle : Caught In The Headlights Of A New, Interconnected, Global Democracy)

Steet Protest Days : Makeshift Studios 2013

Life is complicated, I never stop being fascinated by that old curved ball. In truth, none of us can ever work out its exact trajectory. All we can do is look at what is happening and try to work it all out, and dodge being hit by it!

Who, for example, has not been captivated by recent scenes of people on the streets of global cities protesting their injustices? Who has not thought, what is happening there?

In Brazil, Turkey, Bulgaria and Egypt, millions have poured out onto the streets to tell their politicians that they have become disenchanted and unhappy with their rule, and with their decisions.

Placards on the streets of Brazil proclaimed 'Stop Corruption. Change Brazil', 'Come To The Streets. It's The Only Place We Don't Pay Taxes' - hands up if that one resonates with you? - and the insightful 'We Come From Facebook!', as if Facebook was a nation in its own right (or, perhaps, an alien planet from a different galaxy to our leaders?)

But, within this growing democratic phenomenon is an increasing access to technology. Brazil is a good example. In 2012, for example, a massive 65 million Brazilians were using Facebook, which made them the second largest worldwide market for the product behind the USA.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, but also Twitter, Youtube and various smartphone technologies (text, video, images) has opened up an extraordinary opportunity for participatory democracy to the masses ( in nations with democratic and non-democratic regimes).

From the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Kuwait et al in 2010, to Los Indignados in Spain, Occupy in London and New York(2011), to Bulgaria, Brazil, Egypt and Turkey (2013), the size, organisation and speed of demonstrations has, in the last three years, been largely driven by social networks.

Harbouring feelings of increasing powerlessness, disenchantment with their politicians, disengaged and distant from their nation's decision-making process, millions, interconnected by technology, have taken to the streets to show their frustrations. As elected, and non-elected, officials seem increasingly oblivious to the emotions, needs and desires of their public, social media has presented a 'new electorate' with the means of organising and mobilising protest.
"Democracy is not just about the ballot box," Egyptian activist Sherief Gaber observed in a BBC TV interview on July 2, against a backdrop of street protests demanding the removal of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi*. "It's about participation and social justice" (BBC News July 2, 2013).

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the potential extension of democratic channels.

"Social media" Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed on June 2nd. "Are the worst menace to society."  Irritated, no doubt, that while the mainstream Turkish press had ignored the uprising, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, text and video messages - meantime - were keeping 76.4 million Turks fully informed, organised and mobilised.

Echoing Erdogan's annoyance with social media, Turkey's transport and communications minister Binali Yildirim called for Twitter to have a corporate visibility in his nation. With offices in Turkey, Twitter could then be held to account, the government could exert greater control on what is allowed and what is NOT allowed across platforms. Ominously,of course, they can then decide what stays on social media and what is removed.

I can see, and I am sure you can, a natural friction building between the needs of corporate capitalism to feed its shareholders, the desires of state governments to control, and the growing access within nation states for greater participatory democracy facilitated by social media platforms.

A good starting point would be to ask what was Mark Zuckerberg's vision when he brough Facebook to the markeplace on September 26, 2006**, greater access to democratic channels or dollar signs?

"When people ask me what, in my opinion, is necessary to make social media better for political activism" Dr Anita Breuer of the German Development Institute points out. "I...make it crystal clear to them that Facebook is neither their friend nor a tool designed for the promotion of democracy. It is a profit orientated corporation, and if what is needed to make a profit is co-operation with a country's secret service, your safest bet is that they will co-operate."
In truth, we are rabbits caught in the headlights of the possibility of a new, interconnected global democracy, now, we just have to wait for the next move....
* Mohamed Morsi was removed from power on July 3, 2013, by the military.
**There were versions of 'Facebook' before this date, but this seems to be where the corporate history starts.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Coming Soon

Coming Soon

We Are All Rabbits...
We Are All Rabbits (In Memory Of Tre) : Makeshift Studios 2013

Probably the most important blog ever written in the history of my lunchbreak...

Spread the word, tell all your friends, family, pet, dog, cat, hamster, goldfish, lost astronauts hanging around supermarkets, tourists with cameras and maps, taxi drivers, baristas...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


Please see author's note at end....

Virtual : Makeshift Studios 2013

You wake,stretch and open your eyes and then...imagine this...

At breakfast you quickly complete some banking chores using an app on your 4th generation smart phone. You pay the rent on the apartment, a few bills, check your dwindling savings. You change, interchange your apps, buy an Oyster card, check the times of underground trains. After that you have a look at your work schedule on your calendar, change to your laptop and finish that report you were writing, and leave for work.

Your Oyster card - an electronic card that allows you to travel multi-journeys on the London public transport network - is now recorded on your smartphone so there is no need to visit or speak with anyone at your local station.

You travel into the city, and as you journey you distribute your report by email to those who will attend the meeting you have scheduled.

Arriving in the city centre, you find you have some time on your hands. You visit a local Caffe Nero, order an Americano at the speech recognition point and pay for it with your smartphone using near field communications technology. This allows Caffe Nero to access your bank account and remove the cost of the coffee.

The music is always cool in Caffe Nero, but, of course, there is no longer anyone to ask who is singing or how you can download, so instead you order a new ebook for your Kindle and use your paypal account to purchase a birthday present for a loved one.

Paypal was founded in March 2000 and acquired by Ebay in 2002 for $1.5 billion, it allows payments and money transfers to be made across cyberspace and already has over 200 million accounts.

You arrive at the meeting. Your report has already been downloaded and read by your colleagues from around the world. They also attend the meeting using the very latest in 3D transporter technology. They appear courtesy of flat screen plasmas hung on the wall around the room.

"I r-r-r-read your re...port on the way over, it's g-g-g-good." A colleague from Hong Kong appearing courtesy 3D TT (transporter technology) reassures, the time delay giving him an apparent stutter.

       "Yes" says the girl from New York, whose picture immediately breaks up, before being re-assembled to catch her accidently spilling coffee on her blouse - "Oh sh..." she says, then all you can see is the top of her head as she fusses over the spilt drink.

"It was excellent" chimes your London counterpart, the only other physical presence in the huge 40 seater board room.

The meeting goes well and your report attracts new investors. To celebrate, you book a table for two at your favourite London restaurant - Little Venice over in Kilburn? - on, yes you guessed correct, an app. But, you don't have a girlfriend/boyfriend at the moment so you use an app to arrange a '' wait...this is getting just a little too weird.... move on...

Later, standing on the platform of the underground station you watch the sensor-driven, driverless train, enter the station, slow down and stop at the platform. 'No driver?' you mutter out loud, bathed in the nostalgia of a time when people manned the underground.

You climb aboard, squeeze past other passengers and easily find a seat. You realise the carriages are not as packed as they once were. Fewer and fewer people come into town, no need to visit the office or physically shop when it can all be done from home, and you have the added bonus of never missing an episode of Jeremy Kyle!

As you travel beneath London's streets, you recall a different time, consider how fast the world has changed and feel, really quite lonely.

Where, you think, are all the REAL people!

*Author's note : You will notice that 'Virtual' is - unusually - written in the second person. Most things are written in the first person 'I', which is the more usual for a blog, or the third person 'he/she'. It struck me early on that I wanted this to sound quite clinical and impersonal - and you will understand why now that you have read it. We are living through a very human experiment and while we can make educated guesstimates about where we are headed, life always seems to throw up that curved ball that takes us all by surprise. Virtual, for me, is a kind of experiment to chime with the times we live in. Remember our 'interconnectedness' please feel free to interact and comment, I kind of feel that rather than this just being MY blog, it kind of belongs to all who read it.
** The Jeremy Kyle reference was, of course, a joke, I hope you all realised that!