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The Ladder

Things I think about when I'm not talking or listening

Disruptive innovation: Estonia will do to citizenship what Uber is doing to taxis

A term that seems to be thrown about in the technology sphere, and indeed in the mainstream press these days is ‘disruptive innovation’. It’s the thing that every start-up, entrepreneur and venture capitalist strives towards. In the never-ending quest for convenience, consumers wholeheartedly buy products and services that save us time. So, when Uber came along and started providing a quicker and more efficient way to hail a taxi, the only people who properly objected were the cabbies themselves.

With the growth of the internet, distances are shrinking, the level of consumer choice is many times what it was twenty years ago, smartphones have made computing truly ‘mobile’ and information is largely free (providing you have an internet connection, of course). This creates an environment where disruptive innovation can happen very easily, as communication is both simplified and enhanced.

I read an article recently about how Estonia, a tiny European country of just over 1.3 million people, is pioneering digital citizenship. Every Estonian over the age of 15 is given a smart ID card, which they can use for thousands of online services like booking doctors appointments, online banking, online shopping, paying parking fines and voting. Every new-born baby is given a digital birth certificate – it’s easy to see that the country takes the idea very seriously.

While this is brilliant in its own right, even more brilliant is the fact that anyone in the world can apply for ‘e-residency’ in Estonia. Called ‘satellite Estonians’, these people are not full residents, but (among other things) they are able to set up a business in the country and hold a fully verified ID card (which is used to access the web securely). The ID makes doing business online safer, quicker and more convenient.

As more and more people around the world get access to the internet and connection speeds get faster, distances and state boundaries will become less and less relevant to business. For example, a driven, bright, African entrepreneur with a great idea could set up her company in Estonia. While her company would provide for Africans and have African employees, she pays taxes to the Estonian government, and that is where it is registered. For someone like her, having the business registered in an EU member state is beneficial for two main reasons: firstly, while Europe is by no means a perfect place to trade, the business infrastructure is highly developed and red tape and corruption are often less of a problem than in many African countries. Secondly, after a new EU rules comes into force soon, member states will be forced to recognise each other’s digital IDs. This further enhances e-Estonians’ ability to do business with other European governments.

What Estonia is doing is visionary and very clever, and potentially disruptive to international business as we know it. If this is a taste of the shape of things to come, governments around the world will have to work hard to remain attractive to a new breed of businesspeople. Making things ultra-convenient for people will become really important; great schools and a generous welfare system will mean nothing to someone who has no interest in emigrating to that country. Primary concerns will be focused on the business: cost-saving and being able to run a business as freely as possible are two.

Uber has shaken up taxi drivers around the world, just as AirBnB is disrupting the hotel industry and fast downloads have disrupted DVD rental shops. Admittedly there is a lot of money to be made with these innovations. But breaking down state boundaries and attempting to change the concept of citizenship could, in the long run, be a real force for good. As governments in Europe become more and more hostile to immigration from inside and outside the EU, Estonia is setting a wonderful example. Let’s just hope that the idea catches on!

Olsoweir

What’s next after Facebook? Another ‘social network’?

Trying to predict the next big thing in social media land is a much discussed topic. Investors, marketers, celebrities and pretty much the rest of the world stand to gain in some way from being early adopters (or investors). Are we all wasting our time waiting for some bright spark to design and build a revolutionary new social network, or for Facebook to die a sudden death, forcing everyone to migrate to other platforms?

While waiting for a brand new network to pop up and gather anywhere close to Facebook’s near 1bn daily active users is probably a bad call (just think about Ello), looking at the evolution of tech companies is easier, wiser and probably more interesting. This year, Facebook bought Whatsapp for $19bn. Then, in an extraordinarily clever business move made its Facebook Messenger mobile app obligatory if people wanted to use the messaging function. This gave it a huge share of the world’s instant messaging by morphing Facebook messaging into free, effective and mobile communication. While SnapChat is becoming more and more of a contender in this area (it is currently the fastest growing app in the world), this dominating approach by Facebook shows how, in the future, even just two or three companies could effectively control and own online communications. Just the other day I was discussing the tendency to distrust the big tech companies with a German colleague in the wake of revelations that governments had siphoned off chat logs via their ‘back doors’. While my colleague said she was loth to use Facebook Messenger because of the somewhat creepy terms and conditions, we communicated via Whatsapp. I asked her why she used Whatsapp, as I told her it was owned by Facebook, and her face sank. This monopolisation of communication could become more commonplace in the future, to the point where the only conversations that aren’t logged and owned by companies are those you have face to face, away from other people.

Although Google arguably failed to make Google+ as successful as they’d hoped, as a company it is probably the closest to providing a pure version of what is known as ‘unified communications‘. Google owns so many different companies that it now has a notable impact in almost every area of our lives in the developed world. It is pioneering driverless cars, it bought connected device company Nest for $3.9bn, it owns the Android mobile operating system, and of course, it has almost 70% of global search engine market share. This is a small selection of the areas of business Google is located. As the search giant grows and figures out new ways to link up all of its services, it will gradually become as necessary to our daily functioning as the mobile phone has become. In the words of Fast Company’s Mark Wilson:

“In the very near future, Google will exist, not as something you need to understand as “Chrome” or “Android,” but as a conduit of information that’s on just the right screen at just the right time.”

So, what comes after Facebook? Not another Facebook, is what I’m trying to get at. The company that wins big will be the company that manufactures your phone, drives you to work, looks after your house while you’re on holiday. It’s far beyond a social network, and if that scares you, fine – remember – you’re only human.

Olsoweir

Israel and Palestine: the bullied will bully

After hearing the Director of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) deplore Israeli targeting of UN buildings on TV in the aftermath of an attack on a UN-run school in the Gaza Strip, my opinion of the Israeli government shifted from pretty bad to resolutely abhorrent. While Hamas is clearly a very real threat to Israel, and has mismanaged scarce resources, watching the effects of disproportionate and indiscriminate force used by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on TV has been hard.

In my eyes, the Israeli people seem damaged, fearful and defensive in a broad range of situations. But, who wouldn’t be like that after such a brutal history of abuse? As people get older, they generally become better at identifying those that have had harder lives. People see those that have had abusive or absent parents, or even partners. The personalities of neglected or abused people varies widely; sometimes they are extroverted, sometimes introverted. Sometimes, though, they are bullies. This character trait – damaged, scared and, arguably resultedly a bully – is what strikes me whenever I try to work out why Israel is so severe in its treatment of Palestinians.

Child psychologists have developed many theories dealing with bullying behaviour and what causes it. One interesting article was on the subject of bullying in Israeli schools, written by Dahlia Scheindlin for +972. She discusses in general the “awful dismissal of fellow human beings” by Israelis and the way in which their children are too often brought up bearing the psychological scars of war and conflict. I’ve never been to Israel or Palestine, but I lived with three Israelis during my time in Melbourne, Australia. While they were perfectly pleasant, there was a palpable air of guardedness about the two girls, even slight hostility. I was only 19 at the time and not fully aware of the situation in Israel and Palestine, but I can remember them displaying a kind of resentment towards conscription into the IDF. In my opinion, this indicated that whatever they had seen or however they were brought up, they are in some ways irreparably changed by these experiences. Surely that guardedness wasn’t a result of ideology in this case, seeing as the two girls came across as almost guilty or ashamed of their time spent in the military.

Feelings of guilt and shame are often cited as common feelings in bullies, which is why I found Ms Scheindlin’s article so interesting and relevant. The psychologist June Tangney once said that the more ashamed we are, “the greater our anger and the less we are able to feel empathy – because we so want to stop the painful feelings of shame that we realign our perceptions of the world so that we are not ashamed.” Is this shame that was so evident in the Israelis I met in Melbourne more widespread? Are a lot of Israelis unable to deal with feelings of shame?

I feel like I have to say that while I find this point about the parallels between the behaviours and feelings of bullies and the character and attitude of the Israelis I met and the current government, I think it’s that these are two among a very small number of Israelis I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk to, and I’m in danger of making very arbitary observations about the Israeli government.

The lack of empathy and disconnectedness mentioned above rings so true for Israelis in my opinion. It is a Jewish state slap bang in the centre of the Middle East. It’s about as geographically isolated as it gets on a religious and political level. No wonder, therefore, that this particular country feels like it needs to lash out and get big international powers involved (fussy parents!). Elan Baruch, the former Israeli ambassador to South Africa once said that “Israel doesn’t look for allies, it looks for partners of convenience”. In other words, it looks for its parent with supposedly unconditional love and support for everything it does, i.e. America, and goes ahead and commits horrific acts.

Obviously things are a great deal more complex than this. For a start history is extraordinarily complex, but vastly more important is the fact that every single human individual reacts to history and any given situation differently. How a person is raised, what they have experienced, their own view of history, the present and what they want in the future is fully influential on how they act. An Israeli that has lost family members to Hamas rockets and friends during military exercises may participate in pro-peace demonstrations, just as a 16-year old from a liberal Jewish family may turn to right wing extremist groups. Everyone is different. Like most people across the world, but most crucially Palestinians and Israelis, want to see people living side by side in comfort and harmony. Depressingly, at the moment anyway, this seems like a long way off.

Hashtags are a wonderful invention. How to use them at events:

The use of hashtags at events is nothing new, but most people just stick them up without any thought a month or two before the event, and then forget about them during the event. What a waste!

The clever individuals and teams are doing the following three things:

  1. Crafting a hashtag that is short, easily linked to the brand or the event it’s being created for, and on top of all that funny is hard. Of course, it’s easy to get a lot of engagement with the more obvious hashtags at large, regular events like sports competitions – just think #SuperBowl, #USOpen, #WorldCup2014… your challenge is to get people engaging with the hashtag before the event so that a certain level of buzz is built. Attach the event hashtag onto the end of a question – “If you could ask XXXXX one question at #XXXXX, what would it be?” While the respondent might not use the hashtag, you’ve reached someone and touched them with your brand and your event hashtag.
  2. Where should hashtags be used? By Andrij Harasewych

    Where should hashtags be used? By Andrij Harasewych

    At the event, keep a constant eye on your event hashtag on Instagram and Twitter. If anyone mentions anything – shoot something witty, upbeat and entertaining back ASAP. Why not even include a call to action? For example, tell them about the speaker currently giving a social analytics workshop in Hall C!

  3. After the event, use a tool like Hashtag Tracking to see ALL the engagement your event hashtag garnered. There are SO many different tools to track hashtags, and many are free. Twitonomy, Tweetdeck – the list is long. You can even do it inside Twitter’s website. Some of the more expensive services are very cool, and have ways of tracking conversions and lead generation. Hubspot is one – Social Report is another. They are expensive, and are only worth paying for if you a) have people who know what they are doing and b) have a marketing team with multiple campaigns going on at once and a need to measure the effectiveness of every single action. You should look at the people who engaged using the hashtag and follow up – they could become a customer! Follow them, Tweet about how great their blog is and Reweet a couple of their Tweets.

Olsoweir

Pissed off with gentrification? Got money? Get lost.

A lot of people living in London (and other cities across the UK and the world) like to live in desirable places. Depending on what type of person you are and how much money you have, the areas vary. When I was a student living in Mile End, I wasn’t aware that Shoreditch was the place to be, and that people were gradually migrating up towards Dalston and Stoke Newington. It soon became apparent, and that’s where we started going out.

Alex Proud

“This ‘Shoreditchification’ of London must stop!” How do you propose we do that, sir Proud?

So this is how it goes – a kind of creep of rising house prices, pop up shops, expensive pints and bearded men on longboards. Obviously some people who’ve lived in the area for years are affected in a very negative way – if they don’t own the house they live in, the rent goes up, their friends and neighbours move further out into the suburbs, and they have to dodge pissed hipsters on fixies who have decided that pavements are a fantastic way to overtake buses.

BUT. For those who have money, or the Hipsters themselves who ‘found’ the next new place (recent reports have indicated Walthamstow, Camberwell and Peckham are the new hotspots), moaning incessantly about influxes of people exactly the same as themselves – just shut up would you?

An article that really made me laugh was by a man called Alex Proud, a “Gallerist, club and restaurant owner”. Banging on about ‘Shoreditchification’, the man fumes over how flocks of hipsters seem to have taken over his whole neighbourhood(s?) like an army of squatters. Mate, buy a helicopter and a mansion in Cumbria, because you’re basically asking the sun not to shine.

Olsoweir / George Archer

Five things to do before, during and after university

Ok, so having done it all and now well into my career, I feel like I have some pretty sound advice to give to students. I studied politics because I loved it and still do. But there are so many things students need to do these days to get ahead of the crowd and really make yourself employable.

Before

  1. Think about what you actually want to do. Be realistic – becoming a lawyer is pretty much impossible if you don’t have contacts and the drive to get top marks in every piece of coursework and every exam. It helps to go and see a career coach – they analyse your personality and suggest career paths. I did this and I ended up in exactly the same profession as my career coach suggested.
  2. Once you know what you want to do, start blitzing the extra curricular stuff. For example, if you want to get into online marketing, learn how to use Photoshop, make sure you are comfortable setting up WordPress accounts, and develop an obsession with social media. This last one will really help – social media is the future of marketing (in my opinion).
  3. Take a gap year. Once you get to university you’ll find most people have. It’s something to talk about, and it really does help develop yourself personally.
  4. Research the universities that you think you want to go to. Although it’s great to go to the university that is the best for the course you want to do, if it’s in the middle of nowhere, you won’t enjoy it, and university is extremely fun.
  5. Get those A Levels. Believe me, not only does it get you into the university you want, but it stands out on your CV when applying for jobs. 3 x A grades is hard, but it’s worth it.
Typical internship

A typical internship – but one that can be avoided if you are PROACTIVE.

During

  1. While it’s probably not necessary to go to all your lectures, don’t miss too many. You will end up revising from scratch.
  2. Make organised notes. Get a proper notebook, write down the date for each lecture and the subject being taught.
  3. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: everyone always goes on about joining university societies. That’s all well and good, but what will stand out even more on your CV is an internship, along with a list of things you achieved while doing it. I know it’s a lot to put on your plate, but having one day a week at a company you would kill to work for after graduating is gold dust. Just do it.
  4. Don’t get into drugs.
  5. Have fun.

After

  1. You will probably have to do at least one internship. Only accept paid ones, and put every ounce of effort into analysing how the company could be doing things a little better. A lot of smaller companies still don’t have a firm grasp of social media, so if you’re a social media nut then write up a strategy, measure the results and you’re on to a winner.
  2. Register with as many recruitment agencies as possible.
  3. Write a blog – preferably on topics relevant to the job you are angling for. Make sure it’s on your CV.
  4. Make sure you are on Twitter and that you are Tweeting stuff that is relevant to your preferred career path. Also make sure it’s on your CV.
  5. Make your Facebook page private.

Olsoweir / George Archer

Pick and choose the right social tools to not get confused

Too many social tools, too many choices

Too many social tools, too many choices

Hey – check out the title of this blog post. Quite proud of that.

With the growth and then subsequent explosion of social media over the past five to six years or so has come a concurrent explosion in the number and usage of the following:

  1. Social platforms: these are types of services or networks on offer. For example, video sharing websites are a platform (YouTube!), as are micro-blogging sites (think Twitter, Sina Weibo) and social bookmarking and news aggregation sites (Reddit – one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time reading on the web).
  2. Social networks: a catch-all term used to describe a website like Facebook or Pinterest where users are able to learn, chat, listen and share their life online.
  3. BUT – most importantly and perhaps annoyingly, as I will go on to discuss, social tools.

For someone like me, it’s of critical importance to know which tools are best suited to my every day work. Before I tell you how to make sure you don’t go overboard and sign up for 1o0 tools and then realise on payday you’re paying for them all (f***ing trial periods!) I wanted to compare individual bloggers like myself and perhaps you to those that perhaps do need a multitude of tools, or prohibitively expensive ones like Radian 6 and Adobe Social.

Someone who works for a busy social media / digital agency and is in charge of multiple accounts is going to need powerful social media tools that allow them to control what is posted to a large number of social media networks and when for a number of individual clients.

Get rid of all those standing orders and be satisfied

Get rid of all those standing orders and be satisfied

These clients will be unavoidably different in their social media and content marketing strategies, so different tools may be required to measure click through rates, engagement ratios and engagement levels across lots of different networks.

Then you look at the in-house social media teams at large corporates like Dell. I can’t find the statistic, but something like 70% of all large multinational corporates have a dedicated social media team today. Dell is an interesting example, and one that I came across when reading The Social Media MBA by Christer Holloman.

Around four years ago, after consistent success in formalising its approach to monitoring customer conversations via the web and social networks in particular, Dell launched its “global Social Media Ground Control team” and then later on that year set up its Social Media Listening Command Centre – with the sole responsibility to “monitor, measure and report on Dell social media activities.” Using a customised version of Radian 6 (just to give you a solid idea of how expensive it is), Dell’s Social Media Ground Control team are able to track more than 25,000 daily topic posts related to Dell, and in the words of Stuart Handley, Communications Director, EMEA, LATAM and Canada: “Being able to track the daily topic posts and Twitter mentions means we are able to listen to conversations that have a reach greater than the circulation of the top 12 daily newspapers in the United States”.

Why would you or I pay for Radian 6 when you get so few mentions a day that you can pick up all of them on your phone? Or even Sprout Social when Hootsuite is a more powerful scheduling tool, and you have Twitonomy, Followerwonk and Manageflitter at your disposal for FREE?

The list goes on. My message is clear: Don’t pay for services unless you’re making the money back from yours or someone elses business!

Go and cancel all those standing orders and start afresh. You’ll feel right as rain ;-)

Olsoweir

How to Utilise Social Media in an Art Gallery

My partner dragged me along to an art fair about six months ago, and by chance I had the opportunity to meet one of the most interesting, charismatic and dynamic person I’ve met for years: Rebecca Hossack. Her passion for people, philanthropy and art is infectious and she adds a little spice to what can sometimes be a rather inaccessible and perhaps even boring contemporary art world.

At this exhibition I whipped my phone out and started Instagramming some of the work on display. I wanted to mention the gallery and tag it on Twitter and Instagram, so not realising who she was, I asked Rebecca if she had the gallery Twitter handle and Instagram username to hand.

Another exhibition at #Art14_London

A very tall sculpture of the Facebook logo at #Art14_London – the most recent art fair I attended.

What followed next was both a pleasure and a shock –  she became so enthusiastic about my line of work, what I knew, how she and her employees could and should be using social media, and so on. I found out that her gallery wasn’t on Pinterest (shock horror!) and while the Twitter feed was reasonably active with a decent number of followers, it was really just a series of ReTweets. Needless to say, the potential for social media making a massive difference to the gallery’s marketing and communications strategy was obvious.

I think that art galleries have a lot of room for improvement in the following four areas:

  1. Utilising social media networks like Pinterest and Instagram to educate prospective customers about artworks and artists,
  2. Driving traffic to their galleries by manically promoting events and exhibitions across all active networks,
  3. Engaging with artists and individuals or groups with the same values as them to forge online relationships, with the view to convert them to ‘offline’ relationships,
  4. Complimenting the physical space of the gallery by using social networks to constantly shout: “We’re here! Don’t forget to pop by on your lunch break!”

Below are some tips for those willing to experiment and jump ahead of the others in the art world. These are brief points, and I’m fully aware that there will be more, especially as the platforms and tools develop and you find out innovational new was to use them. Let me know if you have any measurable success!

1. If you haven’t already, set up a Pinterest business page! Even if you haven’t, READ BELOW.

  • WHY? Because 70% of people use Pinterest as a means of getting advice on how to spend their money. If this isn’t enough, the social network are overwhelmingly middle class females. No brainer!
  • These are not hard to set up and are essential for those galleries that want to integrate lovely looking Pinterest boards showcasing all their art with their website seamlessly.
  • Verify your website from your Pinterest page – check out Jeff Bullas’ guide. It’s relatively easy but you will probably need your website developer to make sure everything is done correctly. This is really helpful as it clearly associates your Pinterest page with your website.
  • If you are ok with having little red ‘Pin It’ buttons all over your website – DO IT. You will need your website admin to help you with this, just like when you verify your website with Pinterest (above point).
  • Make sure the Pins that correspond to art featured on your website are properly optimised for search! When you Pin images you can write a little description. Use key words, the artist’s name and the price. This is crucial if you are to be found by people searching, but also as the page becomes more popular your boards are likely to become recommended to people searching for keywords that you have used in your descriptions. Jeff Bullas wrote a decent blog on optimising Pinterest pages – as has Krista Bunskoek from Wishpond.

2. Use hashtags to engage with guests at art fairs and events.

  • While at various art fairs (which I really did start to enjoy), I noticed that it wasn’t just me snapping away and Tweeting photos.What really excited me was that people were doing the same, all over the place. To see these images and who was taking them in real time, all you had to do was tap in the event’s hashtag (#Art14_London), and check out the images and Tweets that came up.
  • As an exhibitor at an art fair, you can really take advantage of this. Having that kind of data is potential gold dust – it’s basically a current list of who is at the event and active on social media. Once you see someone has Instagrammed a picture, Tweet about/comment on that user’s post, massage their ego a little bit, strike up a conversation online and then eventually ask them to come to your stand and have a chat with you or one of your sales team!
  • When interacting with people you don’t know on Twitter and Instagram (the two main visual networks that people tend to post photos on and that are easily trackable using hashtags), it is key to ensure that you ask them a question about their initial post. Agree or constructively disagree (or just discuss!) their viewpoint, say you love the image, and then talk about what your exhibition stand has to offer.
  • So, above I have outlined a way of driving real people (traffic) to your exhibition stand at an art fair – all for free. The more people that come to your stand, the more chances you have to make that sale.
Google+ logo

The benefits of Google+ are almost entirely related to increasing Google rankings, particularly if your Google Business Page has been verified as belonging to your website.

3. Make sure you’ve got a Google+ business page and EDUCATE your prospective customers!

  • While Facebook has got a great deal more active users and perhaps a more relevant user base than Google+, the benefits in terms of SEO are huge.
  • The primary purpose of using social media as part of a communications strategy in an art gallery is to channel traffic to your website. So, when you create a new Pinterest board for the launch of a new artist your gallery is promoting/exhibiting, it is very wise to post that board on Google+, making sure to use hashtags and the link to the board, as well as a few sentences describing the artist, and the exhibition.
Posting Pinterest Boards to Google+

Here you can see what you must include in your Google+ posts to get the best SEO. I have included a link (obviously!), but more importantly a short summary and a skateboarding hashtag. Google is more easily able to categorise the content.

What the Google+ post will look like on the page

What the Google+ post will look like on the page.

Personally, from what I’ve seen and heard, social media is terribly underused in the Art world (world sounds more correct than industry – maybe I’m wrong!) Perhaps it’s because a great deal of art gallery owners and collectors are averse to tainting their brand with social networks which they associate with teenagers and unwanted technological tomfoolery. I think this is naive – social media provides galleries with tools that can connect you with a vast number of people who you would otherwise not have met or spoken to.

Olsoweir

Fleeing Italy: a Generation Lost?

Everyone always moans about immigration – British people tend to say they either don’t like it or loathe it. Just take a look across Europe and far right anti-immigration political parties are gaining ground and winning seats in government.

My girlfriend is half Italian and half Palestinian, and perhaps 50-60% of her friends from home (a relatively affluent area of Italy – a suburb of Milan) have left the country for places all over the world – primarily London and Australia. Maybe just take a moment to think about that in terms of your own friendship group – its a lot of people.

Sforzesco Castle, Milan

Sforzesco Castle Main Courtyard in Milan

They come here with skills British companies need, they speak decent English (in my experience) and also because they enjoy parts of our culture. Someone even claimed that there are 500,000 Italians living in the UK at this moment – I can’t find any proof to back this up, but in 2011 there were 133,000 so it wouldn’t surprise.

Yet Italians seem to go unnoticed. They look foreign, sound foreign and are often employed in jobs that a British person would’ve been able to do. They’re all over the place; behind bars, discussing football on the tube, coming round for dinner constantly.

Apart from the horrible incident when a young man was killed by a group of other immigrant workers, there is seemingly very little bad will to them at all. I’d love to know why this is.

Comparing this to the extremely unpleasant, incorrect and over the top stories published in the Daily Mail about Romanian and Bulgarian workers and the imminent flood the UK was supposed to be subjected to, and you have to wonder if people in the UK actually understand how immigration actually benefits the UK. We are reliant on immigration and have benefited from it for hundreds of years.

Venice

Venice

One thing I do feel is a pang of sadness for Italy. It’s losing it’s young people, and fast. Apart from there being relatively few jobs, most of my Italian friends cite the government and the world famous Italian mafia as the main reasons for leaving their country.

Italy also has one of the oldest populations in the world – which only compounds the problem of the economy. Germany has more old people, but their crazily resilient and tough economy is able to deal with it. Japan’s young people rarely emigrate – and look after their parents in old age.

Hopefully Italy’s economy will rise from the ashes and people will return, perhaps to start families or just because they miss the food.

Olsoweir

London based? Why don’t YOU cycle to work?

Cycling Commuter in Ottawa

After commuting to work and getting from A to B  on a pushbike in London for the best part of six years (apart from the 10 mile post-pub missions braving sub-zero temperatures coupled with sleet), I have come to the unexpectedly sudden realisation that it could help to mitigate a number of London’s social and economic problems. With enough support from our government and employers to ensure certain initiatives are implemented, cycling to work could become a viable option for many current slaves of Transport For London, and be a force for positive change on several different levels. I’ve listed them below:

  1. Get into work smiling! It’s a well known fact that the UK economy is heavily reliant on the service sector, and nowhere is this more evident than in London. This means a lot of people sit in front of computers all day for five days a week. Obvious point: exercise is good for you. We weren’t built to sit in front of screens for nine hours a day. Some people valiantly go to the gym on their lunch breaks. But why pay for a gym membership when you can cycle to work? A) it’s free, b) you burn a load of calories, c) you don’t have to pay for an overpriced ticket for a tube full of hot, irritable people, and you get into work having released a load of endorphins that improve your mood and cognitive performance. Win win scenario? … Yes.
  2. Help your National Health Service! A lot of people are overweight in this country. Diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer are all either triggered or exacerbated by a poor diet. While a healthy diet is a good start, to stay healthy in the long term people need regular exercise. Humans were built to hunt Mammoths and build huts, not design magazines, answer phones and write press releases all day. We could relieve the burden on the NHS significantly if enough people could be convinced to adopt cycling to work as a central pillar of their effort to get healthy, but more importantly remain healthy!
  3. Reduce traffic and congestion on London’s creaking transport infrastructure! London is one of the most important cities in the world, as well as the oldest subway system in the world. Londoners are all too aware of this. Often the tube network seems to resemble a leaking boat – as soon as one line upgrade has finished, another one starts. Not to mention the mad crush to get on tubes and buses in the mornings. Wouldn’t you trade that in for a breezy, relatively flat commute on a pushbike? Oh, AND if you really want to get a workout / not have to wake up earlier in the morning to allow for a longer cycle ride, put that little bit extra ooompf in and you might find your cycle commute is shorter than your tube journey. I live in Brixton, and I get to Soho around 15 minutes quicker on my bicycle than if I take the tube. WIN WIN SCENARIO!

So, some pretty perspicacious points for you there! ;-)

Olympic Fixed Gear bicycle

One of the bikes whose owner is likely to be loathed by seasoned cycling commuters. Avert your eyes, seasoned commuters.

Of course, helping people to feel comfortable cycling to work on what are some pretty mean streets would require a completely new, and most likely expensive approach to how the capital’s roads work. The widening of existing cycle lanes on busy routes and the creation of new ones will only have an impact if people are told how to use them.

People who haven’t passed their driving test are allowed to ride a bicycle on London’s roads – this doesn’t seem right. Cycling proficiency in year seven at primary school was a joke. People who aren’t familiar with riding on busy city roads need to be shown how, for free. This will ensure people know what they are doing – increasing confidence but most importantly it will reduce fatalities. Boris, that one’s for you!

Employers also need to be cycling-friendly and ensure that people have a secure place to put their bikes, and provide showers or some sort of storage for ironed shirts.

Olsoweir

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