There’s no such thing as a grouchy old person…

The Badger has noted a rise recently in the ‘suggested for you’ items pushed to him on Facebook. Normally these items are simply ignored, but the other day when ‘Dumfries and Galloway! What’s going on?’ appeared as ‘suggested for you’ the Badger was intrigued. What had he been doing online recently that could make the algorithms behind the scenes conclude this might be of interest? After wracking his brain for a minute, the answer didn’t materialise. May be Facebook is desperately pushing anything to increase the time users stay on the platform? Perhaps, because user stickiness is, after all, core to social media business models, and Facebook will, no doubt, use whatever techniques it can to make money and counter waning user popularity.

The attention-grabber with the ‘Dumfries & Galloway’ item was simply the following headline text:   

‘There’s no such thing as a grouchy old person. The truth is, once you get old you stop being polite and start being honest.’

It made the Badger – who strives to be polite, honest, and never grouchy (although some may disagree) – chuckle, reflect, and realise that the sentiment conveyed by this text applies throughout our working lives and not just in our dotage.

Think back to when you left school, college, or university and entered the workforce. No matter how full of enthusiasm you were, you probably deferred to the views and decisions of colleagues ten or more years older than yourself because they were ‘old’ and more experienced. Now roll forward ten years to when you had married, acquired a large house mortgage, and perhaps a couple of young children. You were now part of the ranks at work that you once considered ‘old’, but you were still probably careful of openly disagreeing with ten-year older colleagues in senior positions to avoid putting your employment and salary income at risk.

Roll forward yet another ten years to when your mortgage is no longer a millstone, you have some financial security, and the children are finding their own way in life. You realise your career has plateaued, those ten-years older are retiring, that leaving the workforce is the next big personal milestone, and that you have nothing to fear from saying what you really think. Directness, impatience, and frustration come to the surface, and younger colleagues think you are just a grouchy ‘old’ person, which isn’t the case. You’ve just reached the part of the lifecycle where you realise that you can be completely true to yourself, and that politeness and saluting the corporate mast have their limits.

Always remember that throughout your career and whatever the role you have in your organisation, you are always ‘old’ to some. The ‘Dumfries and Galloway; What’s going?’ attention-grabber is a progressive truth, because there is no predefined age when you become ‘old’. It’s worth remembering that.

And when peace comes, remember it will be us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place

This was the penultimate sentence of the 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth’s radio address to children of the Commonwealth on the 13th October 1940.  Many of the children listening were, like the Badger’s father, evacuees living away from their home in challenging circumstances. Now Queen and celebrating her historic Platinum Jubilee, the Badger was reminded of the truth of these words while a spectator at the London Rugby Sevens at Twickenham last Sunday.

When the Princess spoke in 1940, radio was essentially the main technology in the vast majority of UK homes. Her words to children unexpectedly resonated with the Badger during an interval as the tournament progressed in the huge, noisy, atmospheric stadium. Why? Because for many spectators it was a family occasion with lots of children present, and everyone, young and old alike, had personal devices with them providing instant connectivity to the world beyond the stadium. Seeing nearly every child using smartphones and tablets to capture and share on-field action and off-field interactions with players was a huge reminder that technology has revolutionised the lives of children since 1940. Together with the harmony between spectators of different races, colours and creeds in the stadium, the tournament provided a very positive and happy experience for the children present. It must have made a lasting impression that will influence their shaping of the better and happier world of tomorrow!

On the train home afterwards, the Badger listened to a podcast about the future evolution of society. A group of teenagers, about the same age as the 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth in 1940, sat close by staring at their smartphones and chatting with each other without lifting their eyes from their devices. The chat exposed their interests and priorities, and their aspirations to be social media influencers, and it seemed at odds with the podcast discussion and content. This made the Badger wonder if the Princess’s ‘the children of the day will make the world a better and happier place’  is still true when it’s the voices of older generations that get most mainstream airtime today.

Of course, it’s still true. In fact, the words are even more true today because the internet, social media, and powerful personal computing devices have put instant communication, influence, and content in children’s hands in a manner that did not exist in 1940. Today children are using this capability to habitually influence the evolution of the society they want much more rapidly than was possible in the past. Technology has not undermined the Princess’s sentence; it has reinforced it.

The 14-year-old Princess became a Queen now celebrating a historic Platinum Jubilee. Well done, Your Majesty, and thank you for your true public service throughout an era of huge technological, social, national, and international change. Your words to children in 1940 are timeless. Let’s hope that today’s children strive to implement them with much vigour in the years to come.

The origin of the word penguin…

The Badger rang the call centre for help after experiencing problems using a company’s online mechanisms. After listening to a recorded message about covid and navigating the various options, the Badger joined a queue wondering if Blondie’s ‘Hanging on a telephone’ would be better music than Vivaldi. Eventually Bronwen came on the line. Her unmistakably Welsh accent and name struck a chord as she resolved the Badger’s problem. The Badger thanked her for her help and asked if she was actually in a call centre in Wales. Bronwen chuckled, said that many callers ask the same question, and then confirmed she was in South Wales and that the weather outside was typically Welsh!

Speaking to Bronwen triggered fond memories of visits to Wales,  a part of the UK with beautiful landscapes, a rich industrial heritage, and a strong cultural identity. It’s a country that’s seen a huge decline in its coal mining, steel, and slate mining industries over the last half-century. The Badger’s first visits to Wales were in his student days. The first was a weekend stay with his London flatmate’s family in Pontlottyn in the Rhymney Valley. The warm welcome was unforgettable. The second visit was part of the Badger’s degree course. It involved a week touring  metal production, casting, and fabrication facilities across South Wales. The highlight was watching the operation of a blast furnace, a Bessemer converter, and a rolling mill flattening giant red-hot steel ingots into 3mm strip at Port Talbot. It was an awesome experience!

Since that time, tourism, public services, customer support services, and light manufacturing in areas like electronics and technology have taken over from coal, steel, and slate as the mainstays of the Welsh economy. Today Wales has the largest data centre campus in Europe and it’s an attractive place for technology-centred companies to have operations. In the Badger’s student days, there was net migration of people seeking employment and a better quality of life outside Wales. This isn’t the case today. With modern service, technology, and digital businesses continuing to grow, Wales is seeing inward migration and growth in its population.

Twenty years after first visiting as a student, the Badger became a more frequent visitor  when his employer acquired a datacentre and IT service desk in South Wales. Welsh pride and values was encountered in abundance during these visits, and the Badger learned that if you build on rather than denigrate the character, culture, and heritage of a workforce then they will always rise to a challenge. As an English friend with Welsh family roots put it a few days ago, the word ‘penguin’ derives from the Welsh language which illustrates that the Welsh people have always made a mark on the world. A growing worldwide reputation in the arena of semiconductor technologies might have been a better illustration…