#LandscapeOfChange and wierd by choice - Notes for Fred Garnett

Hi Fred - Last week you and I were talking generally about Wikiquals and also about my personal study of the #LandscapeOfChange. I told you I'd written some posts here in the past about it, but not for a while. Today I came across some links which put me in mind of Landscape of Change (LoF) posts where I've sung the praises of my "crazy-sane" friends. I think the links will provide useful references if I need to explain some aspects of LoF:

One of the themes Seth Godin and Chris Brogan are exploring is that production is not about "scale" and "mass markets" any more. As they explore those ideas they describe features of the Landscape of Change. Their ideas regarding scale also strike chords for me on aspects of my practical work with Dadamac Foundation. Dadamac Foundation is all about sharing ideas that work, and helping other people to copy them, rather than top down pilot projects that are then "taken to scale" (see Dadamac Foundation April Update)

They also sing the praises of people who step outside of what is normal and are "weird by choice", like my crazy-sane friends, who I think of as explorers and pioneers in the Landscape of Change.

It got me thinking about normal and wierd.

Normal is only temporary.

I'm sure that "normal", as we are knowing it now and from our recent past, will seem weird in the not very distant future. The peculiarity of "our normal" is sometimes hard to realise except with hindsight, or when there is a sudden or bewildering change that challenges our assumptions and expectations. Life as we know it here and now is only a very temporary normality - something that isn't so obvious when we are young.

Hindsight and change

I had a post world-war-two, "austerity Britain" childhood, though I didn't recognise it as such. As an adult I was shocked to see that my early life was given that negative "austerity" label. Looking back I can see that it was austere by today's standards, but my childhood was "normal" then (and in some ways it seems richer than "normal" childhoods today).

It did include some bewildering cultural changes.

The advent of massive consumerism and "choice" took me by surprise and still makes me very uncomfortable. It doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel normal. Hire purchase (instead of saving up) was also a strange idea.

The throw-away culture distresses me. I was born into a "make-do and mend" way of life. Items were handed down or repurposed. I still feel a sense of shame if I'm the one to decide that "This object, useful until now, is about to be declared rubbish, because I lack the patience or  creativity or wisdom to find further use for it."

The soft cotton bandages in our family first-aid kit were the final reincarnation of threadbare sheets. Socks were darned. Ageing jumpers were unravelled and knitted up as something else. Food was never wasted. Windfall apples, even the small ones, were collected, peeled, cut up, and the grubs were carefully removed. (Where I live now large windfalls rot on the ground.) It was often uncomfortably cold in the winter. It didn't seem "austere" it seemed "normal" and was the background to a "normal" childhood mix of good times and bad.

I appreciate that things are much easier now, that I'm usually warm enough, and I've been spared so much of the drudgery that I saw the grown-ups doing, but I don't like the "compulsive consumerism" and waste that seems to pass as normal. 

The mystery of choice

I can still remember my bewilderment at an advertisement that I saw being pasted up on a hoarding as I cycled home from primary school. It was near the "dangerous crossing", where I would always get off my "fairy cycle" ready to walk across, waiting for Anne, the crossing lady, to hold up the traffic. I watched a man with a long-handled brush who was pasting up a huge illustration of a stork, and the words made no sense to me. They said "Stork Margarine".

I went home and asked my mum about it. What did it mean? She explained it was an advertisement for margarine. I totally didn't understand. I knew about margarine. It was the "proper word" for butter. Bread and butter was a staple of our diet, just like potatoes, eaten every day to "fill us up". There was "butter" (margarine) and "real butter" which tasted much nicer, but was in shorter supply, and was usually mashed in with the margarine to make it taste better. Butter and margarine came in 8oz blocks, wrapped in grease-proof paper, with lettering on it. ("National Margarine" in green and "National Butter" in red if I remember rightly)

My mum explained that some margarine was going to say "Stork" on the wrapping.

I'd just seen an advertisement. There were other advertisements for "Echo" margarine.

I couldn't get my head round it. I knew there were two kinds of butter ("real butter" and margarine) but margarine was margarine. Why was some margarine going to have "Stork" written on it and some would have "Echo"?

There was another shock to my understanding of shopping. I remember hearing that some shops were going to charge you more (or less) than others. (Price controls must have been lifted.) I was confused again. That wouldn't be fair. How could the same things be different prices? What did they cost really? How would you know? (Checking on wikipedia I find that when food was rationed, the ration books were issued for use at a particular shop, so I suppose when I was small all shops had to charge the same price for groceries to make it fair). 

Why this wander down memory lane? As a reminder that nothing, not even the simplest things, can be taken for granted. The ration books of post war Britain are long gone. Normal shopping for groceries now is about choice, brands, special offers, self-service, bar-codes, and DIY checkouts, but it wasn't always like that. "Normal" is tied into time and place. It's cultural, and it's shifting.

Deep (often invisible) changes are happening now, and not just in the way we do our shopping. The writings of Seth Godin and Chris Brogan provide useful background for the Landscape of Change.

Given I'm using this post for LofC links I'll add Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy co-authored by Vasilis Kostakis and Michel Bauwens. It's not written yet, but the link is to the wiki for discussion and work in progress. It's not just the book that is relevant to LofC but also the open way that it's being written.