2008: year in a rear view mirror
‘Tis the season for year-end reviews, but usually I can’t manage to write one to save my life. The year goes past too quickly, and I forget half the important stuff. But not this year it seems, as there’s been plenty happening on many levels.
Has it been a good year or a bad year? Am I happy to see the back of it – or sad? Well, on the downside there’s been the world economic meltdown which has had us all fearing for our savings. No getting away from that. But on the positive side we have had an enthralling US presidential campaign and a historic outcome, with President-elect Barack Obama seemingly becoming the global symbol of hope and optimism for the future. Meanwhile, the New Years Honours list just out today also reminds us of some seriously good sporting news this year, with Team GB achieving historic success in the Olympics in China, Lewis Hamilton leaving our nerves completely shredded with a last corner victory in the F1 world championship, and even the England rugby team’s startling success in reaching the final of the Rugby World Cup against all expectations.
But enough of national events: how was 2008 on a personal level?
On the work/professional side of things, it’s been an interesting year at COI. There was a major restructuring of my team back in march which saw our digital marketing colleagues moved to the new Channel Integration Management team, while we in turn gained new digital policy people and a new name to replace the deprecated and sadly missed ‘digital media’.
Nine months on and I’m finally able to answer the phone by saying “Hello, Interactive Services” without a two second pause trying to remember the new name. But I’m still not wild about it: where clients had got used to associating “digital media” with all things web (internet sites, intranets, widgets, apps, banner ads and so on), I fear that they have no idea what “interactive services” are. Personally I still reflexively associate it with underwhelming CD-ROM “interactive” packages in the 1990s. I have no empirical research to support this, but I have my reservations …
At the same time this was happening, our Director (Jamie Galloway) decided it was time to move on after six years at COI, so it’s been a year of managerial transition too, as the new incumbent Nick Jones – who was involved in the found of industry bible New Media Age in the 90s and who has since held a lot of impressive jobs in government, including going out to Bermuda to help the administration there create a digital strategy. In the Caribbean sun. Lucky so-and-so. Nick’s now fully settled in and doubtless will have big plans for 2009 for his first full year in charge of the place. He’s certainly brought a new style to the team, and it’s really quite uplifting to have a Director that’s easy to talk to and interested in so many of the same aspects of future technology.
So that transition has been a success, which hopefully bodes well for the Next Big Change at COI – a new Chief Executive, as the current incumbent Alan Bishop has recently decided that it’s time for him, too, to make a move. In Alan’s case he’s moving a few hundred yards up the road to take over at the South Bank Centre, but it means a new person in the top spot at COI and all the change in emphasis and direction that this implies.
For me, one of the biggest changes has been immersing myself in social media – this blog being one of the tangible fruits of that process, of course. My jump came after the unveiling of the new Number 10 website which incorporated just about every type of Web 2.0 buzz technology that there was to be had. As soon as I saw that, I realised that it would pique the interest of government communications people all over, and that the flood gates would soon open in terms of demand. Time to get up to speed on it: while I knew the technologies from an academic, stand-off point of view there’s no substitute for actually experiencing using them first hand, and so that’s what I did.
For me, 2008 has been the year of blogs, Twitter, Facebook and WordPress, and it’s been incredibly useful and productive – professionally as well as personally. The new contacts I’ve made through these social media networks are really useful at work, but also provoke my thinking and fire my imagination about how to do things. It’s helped with working with new colleagues, as knowing them online means that the professional relationship hits the ground running – it’s more like working with someone I’ve known for years rather than the awkward fumblings of a typical first consultancy date.
My social media self improvement project also led me to Flickr: and that’s given me a whole new hobby, that of photography. I’ve owned cameras before of course, and tried to get into photography back in the 90s while I was working in a magazine reprographic department spending all day scanning in pictures. But photography failed to “stick” with me – not only wasn’t I very good, but the time delay and expense of buying film and taking it back to be developed pretty much killed any enjoyment to be had.
Digital cameras have changed all that: as soon as you take a picture you can view it on the camera’s screen, and within minutes it can be on your computer and uploaded to Flickr (or other photo sharing site of your choice.) Instead of waiting days to see your pictures, share them and get comments, you can get them out there in minutes. The feedback, encouragement and suggestions I’ve received back from even some quite tepid efforts have spurred me on, and after getting a new camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 if you’re interested – a compact with a 10x zoom) in September I reckon I’ve taken more photos with it in four months than I’ve taken with every other camera I’ve ever owned in my entire life. Quite a result.
The camera was but one gadget I bought this year. I ended up with my own personal “IT upgrade and improvement project” – virtually with Gantt charts to plan it all out. It was somewhat by accident that all my electronics needed renewing in the same year, but it was far from splashing around loads of cash: I replaced a TV that I’d had for 16(!) years, a laptop that had been in service since 2000 and which was finally was too outdated to carry on, and an iPod and a mobile phone that were starting to get some very odd looks when they came out in public – from kids who didn’t recognise them outside of Science Museum exhibit cases.
The IT upgrades actually started back in March when I finally got broadband – early adopter in this case I clearly am not. In fact I wasn’t even looking to go broadband, until my then-ISP AOL announced – with their usual aversion to tact and customer retention skills – that they were withdrawing my existing dial-up service and that I would “have” to sign up to an 18-month contract on their broadband service instead. I decided that I “had” to do no such thing and went looking for something better, and can report that I’m extremely happy with my eventual choice of PlusNet, which has been very fast and entirely reliable thus far.
My IT upgrade program was independent of my social media immersion, but there’s no doubt that the broadband and the new computer helped: having fun new things to do online is made all the more appealing when you’re using a brand new 24-inch Apple iMac, which looked so dazzling that even now at times I reach out with my finger tips to the gigantic LCD screen in much the same way that the ape reached up to the shiny monolith at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Truly, I felt that I had taken a giant leap forward with my IT and online evolution.
With all this spending, I felt at times like I was single-handedly trying to support the UK economy as the world capitalist system seemed on the verge of going down in flames. And I have to say, if Gordon Brown is relying on me to keep it up in 2009 then he’s going to be somewhat disappointed: everything on the Gantt chart has been upgraded, the money I’d squirreled away has gone to pay for it all, and next year will be back to my normal, frugal, penny-pinching self.
My last hurrah was the iPhone I got at the end of October, which appropriately was the perfect marriage between the IT upgrade project (I justified it as it replaced both the antique Sony Eriksson mobile from the dawn of time, and the classic white second generation iPod whose buttons were starting to malfunction) and the social media immersion (having been left mute among my Twittering fellow civil servants at Public Sector Online 2008, I urgently needed a mobile phone that would let me take my social media on the road with me – and the iPhone is perfect for that.) Even the economic situation played into in my self-justification: as I started to think that the banks could collapse and my life savings disappear along with them, I figured I might as well spend it while I had it. It got me over my natural inclination towards miserliness (my dad is Scottish, incidentally – just saying.)
And so for me, the iPhone becomes the poster child of my 2008, the combination of all the various strands of activity. Oh, and also the fact that even after a couple of months, and despite all the iPhone’s obvious limitations and short comings, I’m still completely in techno-lust with it. It brings out my inner geek and allows it to celebrate all that is good and pure and delightful about technology.
So despite the collapse of the world economy, I guess my summary of 2008 is that it’s been a surprisingly upbeat year – for me at least. For once, this is a year that I’m not in a hurry to sweep out the door and see the back of, and one that I’ll look back on as marking progress on many fronts.
It’s good to finish 2008 on such a surge of optimism. Because if I’m honest, I have a very, very bad feeling about 2009 …
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