Saturday, April 16, 2005

Bunged-up !?

It’s a word that suddenly came to mind when I recently checked in for a flight. No, I’m not referring to the mid-air feeling of air being sucked out of my head through my ears, or the inability to use ones nose when a virus decides to lie resident in ones body system.

For a brief visualisation, consider the following: three children with IPOD style white headphones strands dangling from their ears, congregating near their parents - each probably plugged into their own mini-IPODs. There appears to be no communication between the individuals and each looks in different directions. Will babies be given or have white headphones fitted as standard as soon as they are born? Perhaps, each baby carrier could be fitted with a mini-stereo phono jack so that information on good child behaviour and tips for not annoying your parents could be fed through. Better still, a feed for different languages so that by the time the child is five it could speak 10 languages!

The IPOD and devices similar to it raise important issues. N.B. Don’t get me wrong, I too am an avid IPOD user and fan but have noticed the need to ease off on the volume control, only because over use can affect ones hearing!

The first issue that comes to mind is its contribution to the individualisation of society. The use of an IPOD or personal stereo will help you join in the ranks of zombie Ville. You only have to sit on any public transport system and notice that no one attempts conversation or eye contact! Now with an IPOD you too can tune yourself away from the big wide world completely.

Many argue that the IPOD and devices similar to it have introduced a new and novel way of listening to music or audio books, beyond the original aim of the Sony walkman concept. For example, with IPOD type devices the ability to create play lists allows the user to easily select tracks from thousands of album tracks, enabling you to quickly assemble your own favourite compilations. However, the anti-IPOD brigade suggests that by being too selective, the essence of listening to a complete album from beginning to end is lost. Consider: The Streets – A Grand don’t come for free album. Sure, the individual tracks sound great but there is an underlying message that can be gained from listening to the album from the first to the final track. My answer is consider both options. With some devices over 16000 tracks can be selectable!

You may also wish to consider that such devices are effectively enabling Tivo functionality. Tivo was developed a few years ago and appears to be the root technology for Sky-plus digital satellite TV reception and recording, i.e.: the ability to record what you want on a hard-disk player and play it back when you want to. It can be considered the same as a video recorder but easier to use in terms of programming, playback and management of recordings. Now personal IPOD mp3 files are available (the quality is very varied!) with a current appeal to niches through currently non-commercial broadcast channels.

So there you have it, a fashion icon has now changed the behaviour of the listening public. We can plug-in or tune in and tune-out or cop-out.

On a positive note, if we ensure some digital rights management it could open up an ironic way of communicating. Instead of conversing face-to-face, we’ll be fed from ear-to-ear, across boundaries but linked through virtual connections.

Read more!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Staying away from the Darkside

There are many situations that can take place during ones life that ‘stick’ in the mind.
Take for example a recent episode, during an morning train ride to London. Upon entering the 1st class cabin to take an approximate 11 stop journey to London two girls, one probably in her late 20s and the other in her early 30s were both situated standing, glaring and jeering at people as they entered the cabin. Jeering is probably a strong word but over excited and hyperactive are probably more appropriate descriptions of their behaviour. The reason for their mood became evident within the proceeding minutes. Apparently, they had both just been released from prison and had declared this fact to all within an earshot. Their story was that upon leaving the prison gates with pre-paid rail tickets in hand, they had headed for the nearest off-licence and purchased cans of very strong beer to celebrate their release.

I decided to stay in the cabin as I had overheard one of them proposing to leave the train in two stops time. The theory was that the fellow passengers and I could take the noise and loudness for just a few more stops. However, a friend of mine decided to head further down the carriage. I thought that he might have wished to make a call.

I was wrong as the younger of the two left after two stops. I was sitting in a seat behind the remaining releasee. She sat down stood up and then sat down again. After a few seconds, she turned around and started a conversation with me. She eventually moved to the seat next to me after five stops. The conversation appeared to calm her but at one point she threatened to break the glass enclosure containing a tiny red hammer, suggesting at the sametime that it would be ideal for a possible future mister mina.

She was now 35 and she outlined how her life had fared so far. She had spent the last 5 years in prison on charges of what she described as ‘42kgs of importation’; she had swallowed cocaine in a condom from Columbia but had been busted upon arrival to Gatwick. Her husband was expected to be released next month and was serving 7 years for being part of the drug bust. She described his occupation of being a ‘profession robber that gagged but didn’t hurt people during such activities’. She described how she had lead a life of prostitution to fuel her drug taking and how her mother was still fraught with worry and distress. At one point, she rolled up her arms to show that her arms were now clean of the dark spots of heroin incisions. She had freed herself from drugs while on the inside.

Every five minutes she would ask how many stops remained to get to Waterloo.
The couple had between them six children. She herself was one of 11 children and one of her brother's was a Doctor. She confessed that she had chosen the wrong path.

With a few stops remaining to the final destination she described how the prison shrinks had not helped her. She had completed some certificates in reading and writing but confessed later that she could not perform these tasks. Then she jumped to the need to buy a mobile phone and get her watch fixed. The watch had shown the same time of 10am for five years! I explained to her that she could source both a phone and battery from shops at Waterloo station.

The final stop arrived and I have to reluctantly admit that I casually and in an inconspicuously way checked if my wallet and phone were where I had placed them! I felt guilty for doubting someone but the reality of life forced me into this action.Upon exiting the train she urged me to stay with her to take her to the phone shop. Just behind my carriage my friend had got off. He stood alongside both of us. The girl grabbed onto my arm and looped herself to it. She declared, ‘don’t leave me I don’t know how to get to the shop or my next train’. I looked at my friend for some empathy and some moral support to help. He kindly accompanied us from the platform towards the shops on the main concourse.After a few minutes the girl said that she was dying for a visit to a toilet. We showed her where it was. She left her rather large black bag, can of beer and a newspaper to cover the latter outside while she did her business. My friend and I spoke about the need to point her in the right direction and move on.She returned within 2 minutes and appeared slightly sobered. We left her at the phone shop but clearly explained where to get her watch fixed and from where she could get her connecting train. She hugged and thanked us before we left. We both checked our wallets as we headed out of sight down the escalator.

The episode happened on in April 2005. I felt for her in many ways. Firstly, that there may be others like her that need more help when they leave prison or are expected to stay ‘clean’. Inside prison apparently they need more support. Once free and on the ‘outside’ they could potentially commit crimes again unless greater support is provided. Secondly, because although she had stated that she was from a respectable family something had gone wrong in her life at an early age and that there was no one to help. Alternately, she may have been influenced by bad elements. I felt strongly that there was nothing more that anyone could do. It would now be down to her to stay away from the darkside of life. I hoped it would not be a case of being like a moth, not helping her self to stay away from a burning lamp. A sense of the need for her to accept the joy of life was missing.

When we walk past dossers, beggars or drunks its easy to become immune to their needs. We need to ask ourselves if being isolated in our approach to life we consider these folk as someone else’s problem. There is a part of society that we fail to acknowledge as needing help.

There appears to be a missing part of our education curriculum that should encourage life skills and to deter negative influences and elements. Our politicians and those with money continue to lead with policies that ignore a chance to treat those in trouble rather than locking them away.

Read more!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Hands across the water.

With the Popes funeral a few days back, I was appalled at the manner of the close press coverage of the attendees. The issue of concern was the obsessiveness of who hugged whom, kissed whose hands and who shook whose hands?

Some say that the origin of the handshake or greeting is believed to be from Egyptian origins, having been delivered as a gift from God. Others suggest that during medieval times, strangers shook hands to assure each other that no weapons would be drawn. Regardless of its origins, there is little doubt about its significance as a greeting and an indicator of just whom you are dealing with.

On another level, do we expect other cultures to adopt our customs or are we willing to adopt theirs? This might translate to how business or even foreign relations are to be conducted. Do we compromise or force others peoples to deal only on our terms? We may not have time to hear a language, but taking time to learn the "signals" is a powerful communicator. Gestures and body language communicate as effectively as words - maybe even more effectively. We use gestures daily, almost instinctively, from beckoning to a waiter, or punctuating a business presentation, visual signals to airport ground attendants guiding an airline pilot into the jet way or a parent using a whole dictionary of gestures to teach a child. However, a personal greeting with an aim to share in grief or portray empathy may have been all that was meant. Sometimes years of hate between countries or cultures can lead to paranoia rather than considering any avenue for light and resolution.

The Ultimate Gesture
According to Roger G. Axtell, the ‘ultimate gesture’ carries certain welcome characteristic unlike any other single gestures.
* Firstly, this ‘ultimate gestures’ is known everywhere - and is absolutely universal.
* Secondly, it is rarely, if ever, misunderstood. Primitive tribes and world leaders alike know and use these gestures.
* Thirdly, scientists believe this particular gesture actually releases chemicals called endorphins in to the body system that create a feeling of mild euphoria.

What is this singular signal and giant of all gestures? It is quite simply, the smile.
Use it freely, use it often. ( Source: Axtell, Roger E. Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. John Wiley & Sons, 1991.)

What would others say about you on your day of departure?
Regardless of the current politics in the world, the Popes’ funeral brought many leaders together. Those at conflict with each other should use this time to contemplate the reaction of their actions against each other. They needed to see that ultimately, we do not take anything with us when we leave this world. Interestingly, in Steven R Covey’s best selling management book entitled, Seven Habits for highly Effective people, he asks the reader to consider what people may say about them at their funeral, if they were looking in – suggesting that we need to consider our own contribution or reflect on our current behaviour to ourselves (self-discipline) or to others around us.

Let us not read too much into the public gestures but instead hope that there are private thoughts that could materialise into ideas and practical dialogues for peace.

Read more!

Friday, April 01, 2005

A band of Gold

Lyrics from Freda Payne’s - Song: Band of Gold Lyrics read as follows:
‘Now that you're gone, All that's left is a band of gold, All that's left of the dream I holdIs a band of gold, And the memories of what love could be, If you are still here with me’

The song became a UK number one hit single in 1970. What is really weird at the moment is that those lyrics or the first verse at least, suddenly appear in my mind every time someone mentions the need to get a wristband, representing a cause. Let me explain and provide a quick audit of the ones that are around at the moment:Yellow Nike rubber band – available I believe from Nike to represent The Lance Armstrong Foundation. See: & Apparently, more than 40 million of these yellow ‘LIVESTRONG™’ wristbands have been sold

Black and white wrist bands – Available from Nike to represent anti-racism.
Make Poverty History. See . Interestingly, this initiative declares that by wearing one can become part of a unique worldwide effort in 2005 to end extreme poverty. Even Tony Blair has been spotted sporting one.

In one way or another, they are encouraging people to take a stand. Incidentally, I popped into Nike Town in Oxford Street, firstly to get some shoes but also because a friend of mine had asked me to get him a black and white Nike wristband. Unfortunately, for him they were sold out. At the check-out, while paying for my new shoes and socks I asked the teller if she knew how much and where the funds raised would be going. No brochure was available, I’m not even sure if there is one but I did get told that the cost would be approx £1.50 with 30% reserved for the manufacturer and 70% going to the charity. She could not tell me what charity, as she had no information about it or to hand.

On a different occasion, I overheard (I’m not prone to being nosy, honest) a girl in a sports shop spending at an hour talking about how hard it had been for her to get a yellow Nike rubber wrist band. I only know that it took her an hour as from the point I entered the shop, part of a local gym, to the point I left, she was still talking about it! She eventually sourced one from of all places!

I am confident of the decency and willingness of the organisations that are developing these wrist products to help, although some organisations can be quite varied in the way they pay their overseas and far off workers / manufacturers – a different topic and debate!

Back to the song! Some of these bands (pardon the pun) are only here for a certain period of time to raise funds, awareness and create a sense of solidarity. However, there is a danger that they could become fashion accessories but let us hope that vanity does not take-over. Like the lyrics of the song, what happens when, the band has gone?

What would be better is if the themes that they represent could form part and be inherent within our personal values and be viewed as important to our politicians or multinationals that are driven on profit. There is no use in selling arms to developing countries if those countries cannot even feed their own people. There is no point in having extreme football transfer fees and earnings if no investment is made in effective PR to campaigns to actively fight against racism in football. There is no use in having money with shareholders if we do not contribute to research initiatives.

On the whole, a band could be considered as a symbol of hope.

If you decide to buy a band then consider that the real challenge is to change such a ‘band of gold’ into a lifetime of remembrance for change for the better for all.

Read more!