A change would do you good…

We can be happy, fulfilled, stressed, anxious, bored, and frustrated at work  all within the same day! It’s normal for our feelings to oscillate like this, but when we’ve endured months of feeling unfulfilled, bored, and frustrated with no improvement in sight our thoughts often turn to leaving our employer for pastures new. Thinking about leaving and actually leaving are, of course, different. It’s common to think about leaving  but circumstances and priorities in our personal life often stay our hand from actually resigning. Our subconscious also tends to persuade us to put up with the status quo for much longer than sensible in the hope that things will get better.

A few months ago, the Badger met someone wrestling with these dynamics. For the first time in a decade with their employer, they were thinking of leaving because their knowledge, skills, and experience had been under-used since a company reorganisation two years ago had replaced their respected boss with a new one. They were desperately bored and frustrated, and the relationship with their new boss had progressively become more distant. They asked the Badger how frequently he’d thought about leaving during his career, and whether he’d any thoughts to offer. After a sharp intake of breath, the Badger ignored the former question but delivered the following insightful words.

We all deal with thinking about and the decision to voluntarily leave an organisation differently, because psychologically we each deal with fear of the future in diverse ways. No one truly knows what the future holds for them. This uncertainty psychologically steers many towards staying in their comfort zone and avoiding risk. This means that when job satisfaction is low, we may well think long and hard about leaving but not actually take the ultimate step of resignation. So, if you’re thinking about leaving, first ensure you know yourself and what makes you tick. Make sure you not only assess all the pros and cons of staying objectively, but also consider matters in your private life that have a bearing on your decision carefully and honestly. Listen to  George Harrison’s song  ‘All things must pass’  because it’s a reminder that things never stay the same in life, and make a plan covering how and when you will resign before making your final ‘stay’ or ‘go’ decision,

Yesterday, the person called the Badger to say they’d left their employer and to thank him for words that made them realise they shouldn’t be fearful of the future because people adapt to the twists and turns of life. As the Badger felt quietly pleased at having helped in some way, ‘A change would do you good’ by Sheryl Crow started playing from a smart speaker in the background! We laughed, and agreed that strange surveillance sprits are at large monitoring conversations in today’s world…

5G, Satellites, Synthetic fuel, and Thomas the Tank Engine…

There are mornings when your head is so full of things that it takes a few moments to converge on your priorities. Yesterday was one such morning for the Badger, although it wasn’t long before the fog cleared to reveal the main priority was simply to prepare for looking after his toddler grandson for the day. This meant ensuring that our collection of well-used, hand-me-down Thomas the Tank Engine books was to hand because the stories are key to getting the little whirlwind to occasionally sit still. The Badger reads the stories regularly because his grandson laps them up and loves the various characters, especially Thomas himself, the engines Gordon, James, Percy, Emily, Toby and Whiff, Harold the Helicopter, Bertie the Bus, and The Fat Controller who runs the railway on the island of SODOR.

It was while preparing for the toddler’s arrival that the Badger saw a couple of news items about the Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways SODOR project, see here and here. Put simply, this project will demonstrate the integrated use of 5G and satellite constellations to improve train monitoring and mobile connectivity for passengers. It took the Badger enormous self-discipline, however, not to map the various SODOR consortium members onto Thomas the Tank Engine characters! After stifling a giggle, the Badger decided it’s an interesting project, but just one of many that illustrate how technological progress is relentlessly changing our lives.

The Badger then wondered what Wilbert Awdry, who created the Thomas stories decades ago, would make of the modern world. Awdry died in 1997 and since then puritans, the entertainment industry, and social media’s corrosive indoctrinators have insisted on changes to his stories and characters for the sake of today’s world of political correctness. The Fat Controller, for example, is today deemed problematic language, which is just plain daft when its contemporaneous of its time and the author was a vicar. It won’t be long, no doubt, before someone demands that all Thomas and his friends must convert from coal-fired steam to electric, the passengers must have smartphones, and the island of SODOR is completely automated. Awdry would rightly think the world’s out to destroy the originality and charm of his stories and characters.

As the Badger read Harold the Helicopter to the attentive toddler soon after he arrived,  he realised that that Harold might escape a conversion to electric due to recent news of a RAF flight using a climate-friendly synthetic fuel. His grandson, of course, is too young to care about such matters, but the world that he’ll grow into has freedom of speech and freedom of expression tempered by an intolerance of the past, and a head-spinning list of do’s and don’ts about what’s acceptable. Society needs a return to rationality and common-sense for the sake of all toddlers, and Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends…

Saving, inflation, and a takeaway…

The Bank of England is holding interest rates at 0.1% and forecasting that inflation will reach 5% by April 2022 (see here and here). They are also signalling that interest rates are destined to rise, with most pundits suggesting the rise will be to 0.25% sometime next year. With this continued huge gap between interest rates and inflation, it’s obvious that anyone who’s been thrifty and built even modest savings in a bank or building society account continues to be massively penalised for their prudence. There’s no point having savings in a bank anymore, and with shrill commentary  rampant  in politics, the media, and on social media about commodity prices, energy supply problems, labour shortages, computer chip shortages, and general supply chain woes, there seems little point in trusting that the future economy will be stable, or in believing that inflation will be limited to the 5% the BoE is predicting.

The Badger isn’t normally so gloomy, but there are a few signs that this decade could see the kind of inflation turmoil last experienced in the 1970s. Two particular things have influenced the Badger’s mindset, namely looking at a graph of UK Inflation since 1960, and purchasing a meal from a Chinese Takeaway in Crawley. Firstly, the graph shows that the UK inflation rate hasn’t been close to the BoE forecast of 5% for 30 years. With the world the way it is at present, the time seems right for a period of inflation turmoil akin to that of the 1970s. Secondly, the takeaway was 10% more expensive than the same meal two weeks ago. The outlet in question, one the Badger has used many times, has a notice in the window telling customers that 10% will be added to the prices on the menu to cover rising costs. Customers have complained, apparently, but as yet there’s been no drop in footfall. When the average person is already paying 10% more for their takeaway, 10% more to fuel their car, and likely much more to heat their home, then it’s not unreasonable to think that the BoE’s 5% inflation forecast, and thus the ceiling of the last 30 years, will be breached.

The derisory interest rates on savings and their large disparity with inflation look destined to continue for a long time yet. When money is guaranteed to massively lose its purchasing power, there’s little point in parents and grandparents encouraging thrift and prudence in kids. Encouraging them into the habit of saving is under considerable pressure and could be facing extinction, which would certainly be to the detriment of society.

The Badger’s wife, helping our grandson drop a few coins into their piggybank, says the Badger’s pessimistic outlook must be a reaction to his recent Covid booster jab. The Badger doubts it, but you never know…

Transformation with chaos…

After a morning browsing High Street shops, the Badger and his wife popped into a well-known pizza chain for lunch. The number of empty shops and limited footfall meant that our shopping experience had been a sombre one with little atmosphere. As we waited for our pizzas, it was impossible not to listen to the amusing, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation of a spirited group of 30-somethings at an adjacent table. Their conversation seemed to centre on the importance of social media to free speech given Microsoft’s withdrawal of LinkedIn from China, the forthcoming COP26 climate conference, and transformation of the world! The Badger found himself silently oscillating between admiration at their optimism and idealism and dismay at their simplistic view of our globalised world.    

Three things in their conversation grated. The first was a belief that social media is a bastion of free speech. It isn’t. Free speech has existed in societies long before the advent of social media. Yes, social media is a modern channel for sharing information, but it’ll never be a bastion of free speech when people and organisations with nefarious characteristics or intent cannot be held to account. What keeps most people attached to social media, the Badger feels, is simply FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out – not free speech.

The second thing which grated was the view that it’s the UK government’s responsibility to ‘save the planet’ via COP26. It isn’t. The uncomfortable truth is that the UK can facilitate and be an exemplar on dealing with climate issues, but ‘saving the planet’ is more in the hands of the USA, China, Russia, and India than this tiny island. The final thing that grated was a view that the COVID pandemic has shown that our online tech has already transformed the world and that a green, tech-centric, utopia is just around the corner. That’s not the case! The pandemic has, in fact, highlighted that we’re entering an unruly extended period of global transformation which will affect every facet of our lives. Transformation with chaos will be a feature of the years to come!

Transformations succeed when everyone aligns and commits to common goals, plans, budgets, and so on. There’s little real evidence for such alignment and commitment amongst the major powers. The US, EU, China, Russia, and India all have their own economic and internal pressures. US relations with China show little sign of improvement, countries and companies are re-evaluating the strategic wisdom of extensive globalised supply chains, and the move away from carbon creates different tensions as demand for old commodities declines and demand for different ones rises. With this backdrop it’s foolish to think a green, tech-centric utopia is just around the corner.

As our pizzas arrived, the Badger’s wife said ‘There’s a generation whose entire lives will witness perpetual transformation and chaos’.  The Badger simply responded with ‘That’s life’

Technology has redefined normal life…

A century ago, the world started emerging from the Spanish Flu pandemic that followed World War 1. After years of turmoil people wanted change, and the 1920s certainly provided it.  A century later we’re emerging from another pandemic, and the 2020s looks destined to be transformational too. History might repeat itself!  For most people, of course, life today is very different to that in the 1920s. Scientific and engineering advances, and especially the internet and information revolution of recent decades, have put technology at our fingertips and redefined what constitutes normal life for most of us.  

Just how much normal life in the UK has changed since the 1920s can be illustrated, for example, by reflecting on the motor car. In the early 1920s when the UK population was ~40 million, there were only 383,525 cars .  By 1930 the number of cars had risen to 1 million with ~ 7,300 annual road deaths. Today the UK population is ~67 million, and there are 33 million registered cars and around 1800 annual road deaths.  The first traffic light on a road appeared in the mid-1920s, and driving tests became law in the mid-1930s. Cars of the 1920s were ostensibly fuelled mechanical devices owned by a tiny minority of households, whereas today they are essentially fuelled electronic devices with mechanical components which are owned by nearly every household.  Roads are also vastly different, and its amusing to think that any concept of a ‘Smart Motorway’ suggested in the 1920s would have been considered as the ramblings of a lunatic.   

The car and it’s embedded technology has become an essential in the average UK person’s life in less than a century. It’s not only changed the landscape and infrastructure of our country, but also become a fundamental part of our personal freedoms. The 2020s will see cars become powered by electricity, filled with ever more technology to control our driving habits, and become taxed differently to compensate for the reduction in the £28 billion annual revenues currently generated fuel duty on petrol and diesel.  The car as a metaphor for technology has redefined what constitutes normal life over the last 100 years, and that redefinition will continue throughout the 2020s.   

However, there’s something that hasn’t changed since the 1920s, namely primeval human behaviour.  Today’s global connectivity and social media platforms readily bring the most unattractive aspects of this to the fore for all to see. That’s a worry, because the end of the 1920s saw the Great Depression, and if history repeats itself then we could see some similar crisis at the end of this decade, triggered perhaps by a serious failure in the world’s technology infrastructure. If this were to happen, then primeval human instincts will take over and the ensuing anarchy might highlight that life without cars and modern technology is actually survivable, just as it was in the 1920s a century ago

Has tech lost its association with ‘fun’ as a result of the pandemic?

The Badger recently witnessed a young mother struggling to deal with the noisy, stamping feet tantrum of her infant son at the school gates. The reason for the boy’s tantrum became clear on walking past; his mother had confiscated his mobile phone!  The Badger felt rather sad that such a young child had and was so attached to a mobile phone. It was also sad to see the lad’s mum making as much noise as her son by deploying shouting from the arsenal of parenting skills. My, how the world’s changed.

Should infants have their own mobile phones? Has modern tech infiltrated our lives to such an extent that it’s become unhealthily addictive for infants, children, and adults? Will society descend into anarchy if the internet suffers a catastrophic outage, for example, as a result of a solar superstorm? When tech has become such an important tool in our day to day lives then the answers to such questions are not as straightforward as Yes or No.  Tech was a boon during the pandemic, but the Badger senses that the more we used it the more we’ve come to appreciate that a) it’s a tool and not a lifestyle or ideology, b) it can be corrosive to well-being if used unwisely, and c) that we need real rather than virtual social interactions in our lives because they’re more important to our holistic well-being.  The use of tech during the pandemic has opened the eyes of adults, parents, and children to the downsides of letting it dominate our lives.   

One opinion expressed in The Register’s recent weekly debate on the motion ‘Technology widens the education divide’  was that ‘‘tech’ has massively overreached the point where it’s helpful, and is now obstinately wedged into every single corner of our lives, to the detriment of our ability to think and act as independent human beings’.  Harsh, but it’s a growing sentiment. Another interesting contribution to the debate came from Maria Russell, an early-years teacher in North London, who observed that when her young pupils returned to school, their attitudes had changed due to mixed experiences with technology during the pandemic.  Technology has lost its association with ‘fun’ and become less compelling for her pupils who now crave completely different things like climbing, playing with their friends, reading physical books, and having stories read to them.   

Does this mean we might see infants with mobile phones as the exception rather than the norm in the future? Who knows, but when early-years school children don’t consider tech as much ‘fun’ as they used to pre-pandemic, then a seed of change is germinating that could blossom into significant shifts in attitudes towards the tech in our lives as this generation grows up. Time, as they say, will tell.

Welcome to the metaverse…

As the Badger walked to the local High Street to meet friends, the heavens opened dumping lots of rain on anyone without a coat or an umbrella. Luckily, the local train station was just along the road and a quick sprint for its shelter meant a complete soaking was avoided. Sheltering with others in the station’s ticket hall, the Badger messaged his friends to say he’d be late, and then browsed his smartphone’s news feeds until the rain stopped. Everyone in the ticket hall was doing something similar. In fact, the bedraggled crowd looked like something from a zombie apocalypse, but without any blood.  

A news item entitled ‘PC, internet, smartphone: what’s the next big technological epoch?’ caught the Badger’s eye. Its content answered the question by building on a core 2014 suggestion that the tech/IT industry has evolved through three ‘epochs’, each defined by a core technology and a killer app. The three epochs, in time order, were the advent of the PC, the internet, and mobile computing now epitomised by today’s smartphone. If this last epoch is now peaking, then what’s the next epoch technology for the industry? One possibility suggested is metaverses, a term covering a range of virtual realities covering the workplace, entertainment, and community platforms.  Facebook, apparently, wants to become an online metaverse, but that, in itself, is enough to be wary about a metaverse future.   

As the rain eased, the Badger decided it’s unlikely that metaverses, a word that sounds like marketing technobabble, are the next epoch technology. If they are, then we will have to let companies use even more of our data and also accept a further erosion of personal privacy. Many of us will be reticent about doing this given experiences with social media over the last decade. It also seems unlikely that most of us would want to live our personal and professional lives in virtual worlds when, as the pandemic has shown, we crave the touch, smells, textures, physical interactions with friends and colleagues, and the normal rhythms of the real world that we inhabit.   

The rain stopped, and the Badger resumed his journey, walking briskly and dodging the puddles. Just as the destination came into sight, the heavens opened again.  With mother nature exercising its power with another climate change cloudburst, wondering about the next big epoch in the tech industry felt like an irrelevance. A damp Badger finally arrived and chatted with his friends over coffee. None of them are in the least bit interested in metaverses. One, who’s proud of being ‘a digital native and a digital dinosaur’, pointed out that real life is about much, much, more than bits and bytes manipulated by clever hardware and software. They are so right. It’s very hard to see how metaverses can be an epoch technology that will make real life much better.  

Indelible memories of 9/11…

Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the atrocity that killed thousands of innocent people at the World Trade Centre in New York.  If you weren’t there then it’s almost certain that you watched the harrowing event play out on television screens on that fateful Tuesday, 11th September 2001. It was a heinous crime, horrifying to watch on TV in a different country, and it left people with indelible memories wherever they were in the world on that day. These memories are often specific and deeply personal, and two of the Badger’s, for example, are as follows.

The first is of how the Badger became aware of the tragedy at work in a building outside London, some 3,500 miles from New York. Sitting in his office pouring over project documents relating to a 200-strong development team resident in the same building, the Badger was oblivious to the unfolding horror until his concentration was broken by a telephone call from his teenage son. In a voice dripping with concern, his son’s first words were ‘Where are you? Are you okay and somewhere safe? Have you seen the news?’.  The Badger was surprised by his son’s unexpected, anxiety-laden, words. It quickly transpired that he thought his father was in London and that ‘London would be the next target’. The profound relief of his son when the Badger answered reassuringly has proved unforgettable. After the call, the Badger went to a news website, saw a picture of a blazing tower, and knew that the world would be changing.   

The second is of a meeting the following day in London. It involved two people from the company’s Lexington-based subsidiary, 10 miles from downtown Boston. The pallor, demeanour, and body language of two shocked people who had travelled to London the previous Sunday for a week of business meetings with UK-based leaders was unforgettable.  The Badger’s boss, who chaired the meeting, set the original agenda aside to concentrate on their well-being and needs. They were grateful because all they really wanted to do was get back to Boston as quickly as possible to be with their families.  Their professionalism and patriotism while highly stressed, emotionally vulnerable, stuck in a foreign country due to the grounding of planes, and concerned for their loved ones, was hauntingly memorable.   

We should remember that at the time of 9/11 the internet was pedestrian by today’s standards.  It didn’t dominate our lives then, and the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iPhones, Android phones, and tablet computers didn’t exist.  If today’s smartphones, social media platforms, and streaming had existed in 2001 then the trauma and immediate personal suffering of those caught up inside the towers would have been horrifyingly at our fingertips in real-time. Today’s tech means life is different to 20 years ago, but we should perhaps be thankful that it didn’t exist at the time of 9/11 because the trauma experienced by everyone everywhere would have been worse by orders of magnitude.    

Chips with everything…

Did you know that what’s printed on the tubs of butter you buy at the supermarket relies on microchips to control the curing of the ink? You probably didn’t, but it’s true.  It’s a simple example that there’s ‘chips with everything’ in today’s world. While media headlines concentrate on how the global computer chip shortage impacts things like games consoles, cars, and smartphones, it’s worth remembering that the shortage has a much broader impact.   

It’s easy to believe that current supply woes are wholly caused by the pandemic, but that’s not the case, as many articles analysing the causes illustrate, see here and here , for example. US-China trade tensions are a factor, for example, and so are the decisions made by major corporates in some industry sectors when the pandemic hit.  On the latter, many swiftly cancelled orders with chip suppliers who understandably compensated by prioritising sectors where orders continued to flow. As current delays to new vehicle production in the auto industry illustrates, many companies now find themselves further down their supplier’s priority lists than they perhaps expected now that things are slowly opening up.   

The pandemic has, of course, had some direct impact, but rational and objective observers will conclude that the event has starkly exposed a serious consequence of the globalisation and extended supply chains that have become the norm over the last twenty or so years.  Over just two decades the number of key semiconductor fabrication companies has essentially reduced to just three, namely Taiwan’s TSMC, South Korea’s Samsung, and Intel. When the two Asian firms have more than 70% of the fabrication market from facilities centred in the Far East then we shouldn’t really be surprised when a disruptive event puts the supply/demand equation out of balance. There’s little doubt that many country leaders, politicians, and corporates will already be considering whether the developed world’s heavy dependence on globalised supply chains has gone too far. Global trade’s important, and it has been for centuries, but it seems likely that there’ll be some strategic retrenchment towards a better local/offshore balance in order to mitigate strategic risks over the coming years.

For years we’ve been told by health professionals that eating chips (fries) with everything isn’t healthy, and most people in developed economies are more informed today about the importance of a healthy diet than previous generations. Analogously, we need to appreciate that a life regimen that relies on ‘chips with everything’ for the goods, devices, appliances, and facilities we use every day in the modern world isn’t good for us either. Chips as part of a balanced diet or in a balanced every day life are, of course, perfectly acceptable, and so perhaps a shortage of computer chips isn’t such a bad thing if it helps us return to a better balance in the way we live.   

London, millennials, a stag night, and immersive television…

The Badger spent last weekend in London attending a stag night.  Our party of 8, mainly millennials, had a great time without succumbing to a drunken stupor. The weekend featured a crazy golf competition, a great meal, a stay in the Hard Rock Hotel, a bowling competition, and many wide-ranging discussions during the quieter times. Although the Badger was positively geriatric compared to his millennial companions, he gained much respect by doing well in all the competitions!

The members of the group came from different backgrounds and parts of the country. Bonding was helped by the fact that it was everyone’s first stay in London since the start of the pandemic. Although initially apprehensive, we all relaxed when it was clear that all venues were applying covid-safe procedures rigorously, and that most people everywhere were complying with government guidance. It felt strange, however, to see that millennials were by far the dominant generation on the streets and on public transport, and also that no one gave the groom – dressed as Star War’s C3PO – a second look as he walked along Oxford Street! 

Spending a weekend with a group of millennials having a good time proved strikingly educational for the Badger. This is a generation whose lives have been impacted by a global financial crisis, a global virus pandemic, and enormous advances in digital technology.  Most of them don’t remember a time when they received a sensible interest rate on their savings. Most depend completely on their smartphone and use gaming or Netflix for entertainment rather than television. Most use social media heavily, only shop online, expect things to happen fast, and use cash minimally.  Over the weekend everyone used contactless payment for public transport and even to play air hockey in an arcade at one of the activity venues. Smartphones were used to order and pay for full English breakfasts at a table in Wetherspoons, at a fifth of the price for breakfast in the hotel. This is a generation of digital natives who know that continued rapid tech advances will dominate the rest of their lives. 

During one discussion that morphed from the limited success of 3D TV over the last decade, most in the group believed that television will shortly become immersive using virtual reality technology derived from gaming. Time will tell, but it’s a brave person that says they’re wrong.  It was discussions like this that made the Badger thoughtful on the way home. London’s Oxford Street is cleaner, the buses are hydrogen powered, many shops are empty, but the multitude of American Candy stores and the small number of the Badger’s generation out and about highlights that the world has changed and that millennials have the future in their hands. The Badger’s stag night companions were hungry to embrace every aspect of the digital future ahead.