It’s the end of the world as we know it


Apologies for the pessimistic blog title but there is a point to the story so bear with me. Its not a blog about the impending doom of ecological disaster. Nor is it a narrative on the shock doctrine economics employed by the Coalition government. No, this blog is about the smaller things which are coalescing to change the world around us.  I was going to call the post “If everybody looked the same” after the track by Groove Armada (in the days before they were aural wallpaper for dummies) which, if you know, you’ll remember suggests we’ll get tired of looking at each other. Far from it it seems in some ways.  Seeing Dara O’Briain live in Tuesday night brought it home.  Part of his routine picked on having a spare evening to himself: what joy and excitement at having some precious “me” time but what to do with it? Should he watch some port on the 14 sports channels he has? Should he watch a movie on the 20 movie channels stream into his home? Or watch one of the many DVDs he’s bought but never watched? Or in the same vein listen to one of the many CDs bought but resting in the pile underlistened?  Decisions, decisions. Interestingly his conclusion that through having too much “choice” he ended up frittering away a whole evening and watching half of a movie on TV instead.  It makes you wonder where choice has got us. I share O’Briain’s dilemma – left with an evening to myself I too will often squander an entire evening on nothing. Given a choice and I’m like the rabbit in the headlights. And wow betide anyone who fills indecision over the initial choice with an increase of options. Paralysis.

Which is all strange to me.  The world is one of choice. Politicians offer choice. Retailers offer choice. Media outlets offer choice. It is our role to exercise choice. Or so we are told.  The problem here is that it is very difficult to exercise choice when these are constrained both by peer pressure and, perhaps more importantly, by a lack of mechanisms to exercise choice.  Indeed some choices aren’t choices at all, it is just more of the same dross.  I’m reminded of Stephen Fry’s comments about the owner of Endemol being the descendent of the inventor of the flushing toilet – one removing effluent from our homes whilst the other pumps it back in.  Which is presently highlighted by the X-Factor – 2 hours of hand-selected identikit karaoke used to sell a premium rate phone line.

Therefore I found Tom Southam’s latest blog entry interesting.  I know Tom as a professional cyclist with a team that I have gotten to know over this season.  We exchange the odd email – initially about photos, then about coffee and now, perhaps surprisingly, about writing.  What I liked about this post was the way in which Tom highlights the very essence of this lack of choice and the creation of a lazy consumer culture.  In it he picks on Jamie Oliver’s over use of the word beautiful.  Once a word which conveyed aesthetics and  praise, it has been absorbed into our lexicon as a means of describing anything, be it nice, horrible or merely mediocre, and in so doing has wasted the choice offered by our diverse language.  When Tom moves onto the post race interviews with professional cyclists the real issue unfolds – they use carefull crafted statements of blandness and in so doing protect their sponsors’ “unique” contributions.  Its funny then that he suggests Mark Cavendish is at his best when the short-circuiting of the immediate post-race brain allows for some colourful language and insight.

This all culminates in highlighting our world of choice as one of fear and constraint.  To go with the mainstream is normal – I suppose it always has with us being pack animals at heart – but this has made us increasingly boring and unthinking in our behaviour.  Coming back to the title, it is the end of the world as we know it because in many ways this behaviour cannot last in the face of growing pressures and those who take risks and plough a different furrow will arguably be the winners.  I say this as I sit in an independent coffee shop in the heart of an city in the English Midlands, sipping fairly and sustainably procured coffee, roasted to the owners requirements. I could have chosen several Costbucks or StarNeros but this place is real choice.  Its hard branching out. I want to branch out so lets hear it for those guys who offer us real choice in a realistic way and support their efforts. If the world is changing this way then I feel fine.

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