Posts filed under ‘books’

Stages of digital grief

Andy Stubbings writes: I went to a talk on the future of publishing recently by Julius Wiedemann, the Design Editor at the art book publisher Taschen, at the Design Museum round the corner from our London office. Wiedemann made a cute analogy between the classic “DABDA” framework on the stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) and the way the publishing industry is adapting (or not) to digital technologies and planning for its future.

It wasn’t exactly clear from the talk where publishing is on the DABDA journey (inevitably, the projector was malfunctioning), but it appears we have gone past Denial (“Of course the traditional newspaper model is viable!”) through Anger (“How dare people find information for free that they used to have to pay for!”), and is now somewhere into Bargaining (“OK, you can read all our magazines as much as you want online, but only by subscribing to our ‘digital newstand’ via your iPad”). One thought that occurred to me during Wiedemann’s argument was that skeuomorphic design – the idea that objects should retain part of their previous typeform or design cues to put users at ease (e.g. the page-flip mechanism of online magazines) – could be a product of submerged anxiety in an industry still in a ‘Bargaining’ phase, and therefore can’t let go of doing things in old ways.

According to Wiedemann, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better for the industry in the shift to digital. Chief among the reasons for this is fragmentation – of publishers and publishing formats, of retailers and distribution models, of device operating systems and interface standards.


10 August 2012 at 1:40 pm 1 comment

Holiday collection # 4

Eloise Keightley: David Crystal, British Library

The broadcaster John Humphrys remarked in 2007, “It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago”.

Not strictly true, according to the renowned linguist Professor David Crystal, who gave an insightful talk earlier this year intended to challenge the myths about the impact of texting and tweeting on our use of language. Myths include the notion that young people are using abbreviations to the extent that they cannot distinguish between text-speak and ‘proper’ English (and hence can’t write their school essays without slipping in a gr8 or 4u). Realities? We can trace text-speak abbreviations back to the Victorians, many of whom – including Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria herself – were fond of language games and employed very similar abbreviations to the ones that we use now in text messages.

Equally stimulating was The British Library’s English Language Question Time event, part of the BL’s Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices series. Chaired by the luminous and ever-articulate Victoria Coren, a panel of language experts took a range of questions and conundrums from the audience, ranging from the baffling (“Kilometre or kilometre – what should you call a thousand metres?”) to the philosophical (“Is perfect punctuation necessary in order to write beautifully?”). The mainstay of the series is the interactive exhibition which continues to April 2011 and is highly recommended.

Justin Labourde: Anthony Swofford, ‘Exit A’

I just finished Exit A, a rather interesting novel by Anthony Swofford. Swofford is the ex-Marine who wrote the non-fiction bestseller Jarhead a few years back. Exit A is an interesting look at modern Japanese culture told from the perspective of an American Air Force brat who lives on the Yokota air force base on Honshu. It’s a love story, but not a ‘simple’ one. Parts of the book are tragic, parts are confusing and parts are wandering and overlong, but what it is most of all is an effective, and ultimately enjoyable, explanation of how the US military presence there has been affecting the development of Japanese youth and society.

Walker Smith: A. R. Ammons

At the end of every year I promise myself that I will read new poetry in the year ahead.  But I never do.  I keep returning to what always moves me.  A.R. Ammons is my favorite. He seems hard to find these days, and is too little known outside of the US.  “Corson’s Inlet” is far too long to recite, so let his much shorter “Winter Scene” suffice.

There is now not a single

leaf on the cherry tree:

except when the jay

plummets in, lights, and,

in pure clarity, squalls:

then every branch

quivers and

breaks out in blue leaves.

1 January 2011 at 10:38 am Leave a comment

Holiday collection # 3

Joe Ballantyne: Whoops, by John Lanchester

For my money, Whoops is far and away the best book I’ve read about the financial crisis. It’s clear, concise and at times even funny. John Lanchester is first and foremost a novelist – but then perhaps it takes someone who produces fiction to write effectively about a crisis caused by made up money.

Sarah King: Gauguin, Tate Modern

Tate Modern’s blockbuster Gauguin show runs till 16th January in London. It is lucid and contains some wonderful things but I found it full of unexpected comedy. Famously curmudgeonly, Gauguin lived a life of self conscious provocation; the frontage he made for his house in the Marquesas Islands bore a legend roughly translated as house of fun, aimed, with as much venom as wit, at his pious neighbours. He seems to have died of sheer rage in a dispute with colonial tax officials in his adopted home. But the most absurd feature of his immersion was his failure over many years to learn the language that surrounded him. He picked up snatches of it to use with his art, only to discover the banality of their meaning later. Art is full of contradictions and that his reputation is a triumph of positioning and image making was a theme of the show. His magpie-like plundering of everything around him was a means to his end but for this viewer, along with the myth making, there was a strong whiff of fraud.

Andy Stubbings: It’s All Their Fault

The favourite thing that I’ve stumbled across this year was probably the anti-Boomer manifesto It’s All Their Fault. It’s a real angry screed, but at the same time it expresses the kind of frustration I have been  surprised (and maybe a little disappointed) not to see more of this year, directed by the younger generation towards their elders. Maybe we need to wait for 2011 for that. I liked it so much I got a t-shirt made (and then found that nobody in the UK knew what a Boomer was).

30 December 2010 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

Holiday collection # 1

To mark the end of the year – as is now traditional on the blog – we asked people across the company to share something they’d enjoyed this year. We’ll be publishing the responses on the blog between now and New Year’s Day.

Emily Pitts: Canaletto at the National Gallery

I recently went to see the Canaletto exhibition at The National Gallery, which proved a far more eye-opening experience than I’d expected. I went with vague memories of his Venice cityscapes as being slightly boring ….endless views of more or less the same thing. Whilst this exhibition centres on Venice, it is certainly not fair to say the paintings are boring. Taking some time to look at a city from various angles and in different lights made me look at London afresh on leaving the gallery. I found I was noticing more detail in the buildings, more rhythm in the skyline. Incidentally, it’s said that Renzo Piano designed The Shard – currently careering skywards a stone’s throw from our London office – based on Canaletto’s angular London paintings of church spires and tall ships. Whilst I’m not convinced by this design rationale, I’m sure the views from the building will provide new and challenging views of a city so many know so well. But, if you want to fall in love with London again this New Year without waiting for industrial architecture to bring it to you – visit Canaletto and His Rivals, showing until 16th January 2011.

Andrew Curry: Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can

One of my disappointments this year was that Laura Marling didn’t win Britain’s Mercury Music Prize, given for the best record produced by a British artist that year. The judges were seemingly transfixed because last year’s winner – also a solo female artist – had slid back into obscurity afterwards, and cravenly gave the prize to the competent but unexciting The XX. To her credit, Marling seems unconcerned. But I want to be concerned on her behalf. I Speak Because I Can, her second record, is an extraordinary piece of work, steeped in the English folk tradition but sounding completely modern in a way which, say, Seth Lakeman can only dream of. Her songs tell rich stories, which are matched by melodies which are both tuneful and complex. The only other thing I heard this year which had as much depth was Gil Scott-Heron’s CD I’m New Here; but he’s been recording for 40 years and Laura Marling is barely 20.

Alex Steer: The State of Africa, by Martin Meredith

My holiday reading pick is Martin Meredith’s decidedly un-festive The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. Curiously, though perhaps tellingly, this book was published in the US as The Fate of Africa. It’s easy to read Meredith’s compelling narrative of the continent’s troubled half-century as a write-off rather than a write-up. It’s relentless in showing how bad African leadership, not just colonial mismanagement, led to disaster again and again. But this isn’t Afro-pessimism. The honest dissection of Africa’s failures shows how they might be overcome. If you want to understand Africa (and you should), start here.

26 December 2010 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Christmas Collection # 3

Andrew Curry, London: Future Savvy, by Adam Gordon

Future Savvy was the most stimulating futures book I read this year. I was put off at first; it sets itself up as a book about forecasting, and I am sceptical about this (you learn early in futures work that all forecasts are wrong, except for the ones which are right for the wrong reasons). But businesses and governments live by forecasts, and as you go further in, you discover that  Adam Gordon’s intent is to make us appreciate the limits of forecasting.

There are good chapters on the nature of bias (social and personal), on why technology-led forecasts are so often wrong, and a reminder that the ‘blockers’ of change can be as influential as the ‘drivers of change’. Unlike some futures books, it is also clear and well-written.

It ends with a couple of chapters which are designed to improve the quality of our thinking about the future. The first takes some actual forecasts and interrogates their assumptions and gaps. (The forecast for the US housing market to 2013 by the US Homeownership Alliance is self-serving and spectacularly wrong). The second has a useful set of questions the reader can use to test the value of a forecast. As he concludes,

Good forecasting is as much about seeing what won’t change in the future. Even in fast-moving situations, not everything will change.

(The Future Savvy blog is here.)

Liz Walkling, London: The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

I have just finished reading this crime trilogy inside a month! The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest are un-putdownable, with a complex, interconnected and riveting plot and a cast of intriguing characters – journalists, security experts, corporate heads and a network of hacking experts. Particularly likeable – even given her multi-faceted role as victim, anti-heroine and the saviour of the day – is the dysfunctional Lisbeth Salander, an extraordinarily gifted computer hacker. These skills enable her to uncover the long-unsolved disappearance of the daughter of a Swedish corporate millionaire, aided by the other central character, Mikael Blomqvist, an investigative reporter.  The trilogy starts and finishes in tight courtroom dramas.  It’s compelling because  Lisbeth’s own story is a true injustice in all the senses of the word, but it’s this that makes her unusual character so likable.  I was sad to finish it and desperately tried to slow down to eke out the pleasure, but the final volume was so gripping that I failed. I was so engrossed I almost missed my tube stop several times.

Claudia Rimington, London: Damien Hirst, No Love Lost

Hirst’s latest exhibition consists of 25 oil paintings, all large, dark and brooding, in two rooms in the Wallace collection. Most of the paintings contain an object associated with death (a skull, a skeleton) and they sit in dark blue spaces.  All similar in feeling, and dominating the two classical rooms in which they are housed, their exhibition space is cold and atmospheric. Though the exhibition isn’t full of cheery subject matter, I would definitely recommend a visit to this before it closes on January 24th.  What’s attractive about this exhibition is the rare beauty of some of the works.  There’s something strangely compelling about Hirst’s low lit skulls in the dark – the deepness of the colours, the contrast between a sense of humanity and the nothingness which surrounds.

(You can watch a short video where Damien Hirst talks about the works in this exhibition here.)

30 December 2009 at 9:18 am 2 comments

Christmas Collection #2

Oliver Wright, London: Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford & Orlanda Ruthven

When we hear about those living on less than $1 or $2 a day, it’s easy to assume that the world’s poor do, in fact, have a stable but incredibly meagre income. The authors of Portfolios of the Poor establish that this is far from the case, and from information gleaned from individual financial diaries kept over the course of a year (and also from the personal relationships formed in so doing) they uncover the complexity that characterizes financial management for those below the poverty line. In Bangladesh, India, and South Africa, they find that the poor have remarkable coping mechanisms to deal with uncertain and irregular incomes. In South Africa, they discover that over the course of a year, people often manage 17 different informal financial products, ranging from savings clubs, deposit collectors, and short-term cash loans. Lacking basic literacy skills, many keep track of these mentally. In order to manage the risks which often threaten their livelihoods, they find that the poor are often using a greater number of financial instruments than the rich.

(This review was based on a podcast with the authors, hosted on Development Drums.)

Ramona Liberoff, London: Rambert at Sadler’s Wells – Triple Bill

Modern dance scares the uninitiated.  Will the audience will be comprised of angular women with spectacles on rhinestone chains, with birds nests of greying hair?  Will dancers snap their wrists and flail around to honking random horn notes?  Nothing could be further than the Rambert’s last mixed bill at Sadler’s Wells.  The combination of young dancers, choreographers and audience brought accessibility and modernity to ‘old’ music: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden arranged by Mahler, Saint Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.  Modern dance is a great way of ‘hearing through seeing’: the submerged elements of the pieces were re-mixed by the imaginations of the choreographers, and made new again through associations with movements that – while being influenced through classical ballet – were much fresher than that.  Imagine a Hermes Kelly bag made of PVC, and you’ll get the picture.

Mary-Kay Harity, Chapel Hill: Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Wherever you are reading this, you’re likely to be seeing lots of familiar holiday reminders of those less fortunate: ubiquitous bellringers next to big red kettles, coat collections, food drives and other charity appeals. These are often accompanied by images of homeless families, isolated seniors, and gift-less children at Christmas. These may be even starker than usual this year, courtesy of the recession. That is why I highly recommend reading (or re-reading) Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic Nickel and Dimed.  Ehrenreich turns the spotlight on those ‘caught in the middle’ –  The unseen poor: neither destitute enough for aid nor solvent enough to live decently, all while working fulltime (and often two and three times ‘full time.’) Nickel and Dimed suggests a new item for the social agenda as a greater sense of shared responsibility takes hold among consumers.

29 December 2009 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Christmas Collection #1

To see out 2009 on the blog, we asked people from across the company to give us a short review of a movie, book, exhibition, or anything that struck them during the year. Here’s what they sent us.

Andy Stubbings, London: The Hurt Locker, by Kathryn Bigelow

My favourite film of 2009 was The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow. Hugely captivating and at times ridiculously tense, I can’t remember the last time a film at the cinema has been so immersive (certainly not the slew of mediocre ‘disaster porn’ movies of the last couple of years). I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but if you do get the chance, try and see it in a great big, loud cinema. Just don’t sit too close.

Jessica Baluss, Chapel Hill: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall

Part-time runner, part-time journalist Chris McDougall tracks down the reclusive Tarahumara  (‘the Running People’) in the rugged terrain of Northern Mexico.  He explores physiology and training across sports and cultures; the subculture and relatively unknown athletes of modern ultra-running; and a quirky cast of characters – including the author himself – who ultimately face off against the Tarahumara “ghost runners” in a page-turning extreme race through the desert.  It’s a thought provoking take on why we run – examining unnecessary layers of the modern running shoe and ‘the Nike effect’, as well as the corporatization of racing and sponsorship. It’s inspired many runners to try a different stride, terrain, pair of shoes, and to rediscover the joy of their next jog.

Stacey Yates, London: Sophie Calle, ‘Talking To Strangers’

For her exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Sophie has taken a ‘break up’ letter from her lover and sent it to 107 women with different backgrounds and asked them to interpret the letter from their professional, or in some cases, personal standpoint.  Among others she has called on a criminologist, writer, proof reader, opera singer, mother, mime artist, 9 year old school girl, editor, and an 18th century historian….the list goes on.

It’s a fascinating look at our capacity to approach subjects in a variety of different ways and it’s done brilliantly. A fantastic multimedia installation where the audience seems to be walking around, well… looking for themselves in the various interpretations! Interesting and inspiring – and on until 4th January.

(The picture is from the Whitechapel Gallery, and is used with thanks.)

28 December 2009 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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