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A brilliant format for radio… on TV

In Monocle this month, Michael Booth profiles Det Sidste Ord (The Last Word), a Danish television programme where famous people give an interview that is. filmed in great secrecy, edited and broadcast only after their death. Slightly weirdly, the questions are asked in the past tense and the third person (‘Who was Simon Howard?’ or ‘What was the most important thing Simon learned during his lifetime?’)

The interview is typically shown within a few weeks of the participant’s death, and there is an intention to re-edit and re-broadcast them around twenty years after death.

It sounded fascinating, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a radio format. The description didn’t sound televisual to me.

I’ve been trying to work out why that was my reaction. I think it is because it sounds like the format involves deep and intimate conversation, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done well on television. Radio somehow conveys authenticity; TV struggles to break through a sheen of artificiality.

I read Rob Burley’s book about TV political interviews earlier this year and disagreed with his view that long-form television interviews are the most revealing. They often become performative and false in a way that rarely happens on radio. They are simply different beasts.

It’s an unfair comparison, but you can learn more about a person’s character from one appearance on Desert Island Discs than from ten guest slots on Graham Norton or Laura Kuenssberg’s TV shows.

With those preconceptions, I can see why my initial reaction was that Det Sidste Ord would make great radio rather than television. But perhaps the real lesson is that those who make British TV have much to learn from the Danes, or that I am watching the wrong programmes.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Media, Post-a-day 2023, , .

Sacrificing certainty for creativity

You’ll no doubt have seen that Spotify cancelled the podcast Heavyweight this week, alongside a tranche of redundancies. Ironically, I’d introduced Wendy to the show hosted by Jonathan Goldstein only a fortnight ago. I’ve listened since the start, though in a pretty on-and-off fashion. The episodes were so well-crafted and moving that it felt weirdly disrespectful to listen to them as background audio, which ironically meant that I didn’t get around to hearing them.

The best thing I’ve read on the topic is PJ Vogt’s insightful piece on the cancellation of Heavyweight and the broader state of the podcast industry. Of his Search Engine podcast, which I also enjoy, Vogt says:

We have a budget that’s good until July. After July, we’ll see.

One of the comforts of working as a doctor is the confidence in future employment. Even in public health, which is undoubtedly the rockiest of medical specialties in those terms, it’s easy to have a high degree of confidence that doctors will always be required in the system somewhere, even if the system is dismantled every five years or so.

Podcasting, by contrast, sounds terrifying: most of my job is about dealing with uncertainty, but I couldn’t sleep if I had no idea if my job would still exist in a few months. The creative drive of people like Vogt and Goldstein, their willingness to sacrifice certainty to make journalistic and artistic products, is truly something to behold.

I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have a job that allows me to pursue my interests while maintaining a degree of personal assurance. Most people aren’t so lucky.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, Technology, , .

Aviate, navigate, communicate

I’ve watched enough Aircrash Investigation to know that in an emergency, pilots focus on aviation, navigation, and communication—in that order. It seems like the ‘airway, breathing, circulation’ of the aviation world.

Listening to bits of the COVID-19 inquiry over recent weeks, Wendy observed that often, decision-makers were put off from making a decision due to fear of what might come next. This week’s most-discussed example has been lockdowns: there was much discussion about them being intentionally deployed as late as possible because of the future risk of behavioural fatigue.

I can understand why this happened. I obviously had no part in the decision-making, but before the lockdown was announced in the UK, I remember being sceptical that compliance would be high and thinking that it would tail off quickly. Even as lockdown was announced, I’m reasonably sure I said something like, ‘I bet loads of people go to work tomorrow regardless’. I was entirely wrong.

In retrospect, this feels similar to forgetting to aviate due to focusing on navigation: it’s ignoring what’s in front of the windscreen right now for fear of what might emerge later. In certain extreme situations, that might be advisable. Yet, generally, it’s more sensible to prevent the plane from crashing into the thing in front of the windscreen right now. One can consider whether the manoeuvre has knocked the aircraft off course once the evasive action has been taken.

Perhaps the lesson of the COVID-19 inquiry is the same. Take action to avert the crisis before you, and add nuance and course correction later when the impact is known. Don’t delay essential action because of uncertainty about what might happen later.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Health, Post-a-day 2023.

Combining cruelty and self-harm

After the Prime Minister decided that the level of immigration into the UK was ‘far too high’, it felt like he’d decided to come up with a new plan in about thirty seconds. Wendy and I watched in total bafflement as the seemingly nonsensical details appeared on our screens.

Perhaps the best commentary I’ve seen on the topic is from Jonn Elledge, who properly captures the sense of utter befuddlement we felt:

There are so many issues with this policy that it’s hard to know where to begin. It’ll reduce Britain’s competitive advantage in sectors, like science and higher education, where non-British people choose to work here for reasons other than money. It’ll wreck the NHS and social care system, which depend on immigrant labour to function and will struggle to recruit if workers can no longer bring their children. (Sure, you can argue that those systems should wean themselves off cheap migrant labour by hiring more staff domestically; but doing so would likely require substantial budget increases which ministers have made abundantly clear they have no intention of providing.) It means smugly telling the public that we are reserving not the best, but worst, paying jobs for the domestic workforce – and doing so just as we approach an election year.

And it means telling British voters that they no longer have the right to bring someone they love to their own country, simply because they don’t earn enough money. The estimate doing the rounds for the proportion of the public affected is 73%; given that people are more likely to fall in love when they are young and not earning very much, that may well be an under-estimate. And on Tuesday night, the government declined to promise that this would not affect visa renewals for those who are already here. They’re literally telling the voters that, to get the numbers down, they’re going to deport their partners.

This post was filed under: Politics, Post-a-day 2023, .

Twitter as a social mobility tool

James O’Malley opens his latest Substack post:

Twitter’s most underrated function is that it is a tool for social mobility.

After graduating into the financial crisis, I moved to London and I didn’t know anyone. My parents are not super wealthy, I went to a normal comprehensive school in the Midlands – and then to a post-1992 university. So when it came to getting a job and building a professional network, I was essentially starting from scratch.

But the one asset I did have was that I was a Twitter early adopter. Through the platform I discovered an entire professional world that would historically have been closed off to me, and as I followed journalists, politicos and other high-flyers, I was able to glimpse into their world, learn the industry gossip, identify the behind-the-scenes power-players and master the terms of art. Scrolling my timeline was like having a permanent spot at the water-cooler of London’s political and media elite.

I’ve never previously considered Twitter from the perspective of social mobility, but now that James has pointed it out, it seems obvious. Indeed, when I was active on Twitter in the early stages of my career, it helped me to make professional connections in a similar way. Public health in England is a small professional world, and as a result, it is disproportionately London-centric. Twitter helped me to make professional connections even from afar.

Yet, looking back, many of the people I made professional connections to were the—for want of a better phrase—‘extremely online’ colleagues, who were often not as influential, switched-on or expert as they thought they were.

Last week, we heard complaints at the COVID inquiry about politicians’ inability to distinguish between absolute and relative risk. Not many years ago, I did my best to explain the same to an uncomprehending prominent professional by direct message on Twitter. They may have been rarely off the telly and hugely popular on Twitter, but the conversation revealed their grasp of the basics to be a little loose. Another told me that a study they shared was significant because of a wide confidence interval, which they believed to demonstrate a very high level of confidence: an almost perfect inversion of the true meaning.

I came to learn that the people with deep knowledge and real, lasting influence tended not to be active members of the Twitterati. In my field, at least, when ‘extremely online’ people reach positions of real-world seniority, it can become somewhat fraught. Public health is a naturally complex, subtle and political field which perhaps doesn’t reward talent for brief, blunt, off-the-cuff responses. There are exceptions, of course, and I’m not inured to the irony of writing all of this in a blog post.

In politics and journalism, public engagement is the job, so naturally, excellent practitioners will often do well on social media. In these fields, Twitter is a perfect tool for social mobility, precisely as James describes. In medicine, I’m not so sure.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, Technology, , .

Electric screwdriver

I’ve owned an electric screwdriver for years. It’s a green monstrosity, shaped like a drill. I rarely use it: grabbing an ordinary screwdriver has always seemed more straightforward.

Yet, in August, I noticed that The Verge recommended a cheap electric screwdriver from Hoto. I ordered one from Amazon for £28.50 on a whim.

The Hoto screwdriver has caused a minor revolution in our household. Whenever I need to turn a screw, I automatically reach for the Hoto in the same way that I used to go for a manual screwdriver. There’s something ineffably convenient about it.

The different heads are stored in the screwdriver’s case, which is much more accessible than the way the heads are stored in the handle of my manual screwdriver. The longitudinal design makes it much easier to control than my old drill-like electric screwdriver. The three speeds mean that I don’t feel like I’m blasting every screw, yet I still have the power to drive self-tapping screws when required. It charges via USB-C, meaning a charger is always handy. And, of course, it requires less effort to screw with an electric model than a manual model.

This experience has reminded me that a good bit of design makes all the difference. Functionally, the Hoto screwdriver does nothing more than any other screwdriver I own, yet its good design means it’s always the first one to hand.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, , .

I’ve been to see ‘900 miles (from Home)’

This is the first UK solo exhibition by Jade Sweeting. It features a small selection of 8×10 black-and-white photographs of parts of motorcyclists’ bike jackets and leathers. The pictures are accompanied by an audio recording of motorcycle noises, which the exhibition notes reveal to be from the artist’s own bike.

Unfortunately, this didn’t do anything for me. The notes say that it is ‘erotic, sensual and tender’ and that it explores the artist’s position as a woman in the male-dominated world of motorbikes. I didn’t get any of that; it seemed like a collection of interestingly composed photos of zips and stuff. Perhaps, in part, this is because I have no direct knowledge or experience of the subculture Sweeting explores in this exhibition.

I’m pleased that the artist pursued her vision and that the gallery wasn’t shy of putting on a solo exhibition of work that’s a little less obvious. The result of both things is that some of the work featured will fail to connect with some of the audience. In this case, I’m afraid that applies to me.

900 miles (from Home) continues at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until 21 January.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , .


This post was filed under: Photos, Post-a-day 2023, .

I’ve been reading ‘Everyone’ by Philippa Perry

A few years ago, I read psychotherapist Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane. I thought the writing was good but that the book was too practical and less analytical than I had hoped it would be.

Recently, I’ve read this new book—which, for brevity, I’ll call Everyone—and I enjoyed it much more. Relationships are the book’s focus, including social relationships, those in the workplace, and those within families. Perry advises on valuable techniques for getting the best out of interactions and illustrates many of her concepts through advice related to letters from readers.

The advice in this book feels grounded. It is neither earth-shattering nor new, yet the book is an easy read which manages to be both comforting and challenging. I enjoyed spending time with it.

Some quotations:

There’s a difference between thoughts and thinking. You’ll have thousands of thoughts a day. Latching on to a thought turns it into thinking; you fertilise it. So, latch on to the good ones and let the others float by.

Putting a feeling into words is what we call in therapy ‘processing feelings’. When you can calmly talk about how you feel you have control of the feeling, rather than the feeling having control of you. If we don’t get into the habit of doing this, we will continue to act out the feeling, or hold it in, where it might burn away at us.

Often we can fall into the trap of interpreting behaviour by what it would mean if we did whatever the other person is doing. Someone else’s behaviour has a different meaning from what it would mean if you did it.

As we are in charge of ourselves, rather than other people, if we want something to change, it is our responsibility to change ourselves. Others will respond to that change or they won’t, and that is not within our control.

Sometimes other people are annoying and awful, and sometimes they are simply approaching life differently to us. If we don’t learn to cope with difference, either we’re fighting the whole time or we collapse and lose our sense of self, consumed by what others want of us.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, What I've Been Reading, .

First proper snow of the season

This post was filed under: Photos, Post-a-day 2023, .

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