Welcome to Starting Monday - musing over my last seven days in the urban swirl, and letting it formulate a challenge for the next seven.
I had a triple-layer London Shoreditch day on Thursday - time spent at my co-working space 42 Acres, a meeting in Google’s Campus round the corner, and a podcast interview deep in another freelance warren near that.
As you move through it, Shoreditch is often a surreal experience. Giant, perspective-defying corporate ziggurats are surrounded, at their based, by graffiti-plastered historic buildings. Inside of the latter, there are zillions of cubes of office space, where young digital talent converses with the established money of the City of London, just to the south.
Schumpeter’s creative destruction is like a constant crackle in the air. As I moved about my appointments, I saw offices in which I’d hung out with various hipsters only a few years ago, being toured round their then-sexy companies: MakieLab and Berg.
Both of them were interested in creative design/engineering: MakieLab made 3D-customised dolls, Berg a whole range of cute yet productive and smart objects. But their trade and personnel had by now been absorbed into Disney and Google, LA and New York, respectively. And the offices were now full of some other young turks. Shoreditch is clearly a proving ground, of some kind.
Though I’ve been around a bit too long to be proving anything to anyone in Shoreditch. I've fetched up here from various odd angles.
42 Acres is a beautiful converted church, which is now a “conscious co-working space”: I’m here as part of The Alternative UK (the experimental political platform mentioned in the first Starting Monday blog), sharing desks with the think-tank Perspectiva and Alter Ego. The “conscious” part is important - there’s no bullish or laddish jousting or cavorting, just a steady flow of quietly determined and mutually respectful freelancers. There are natural crossovers and conversations, but no compulsive networking.
My next stop was considerably different - a side-alley stack of offices called Campus, run by Google (their others are in Berlin, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Warsaw). You can freely become a member of the Campus Cafe, if they accept your application: my contact took me downstairs to a very crowded room of benches, filled with pounding young digerati.
The rhythm seems to be that you immerse yourself in Campus life (it pulses with courses), and maybe ascend to the paid offices above, or even the “accelerator” space above that (where your project may be invested in). I am always trying to discern when the information economy is generating new social and organisational forms - but this seems like it's recovered one of the oldest ones, the guild with its apprenticeships and master craftspersons, revived and retooled.
My meeting is in the Cafe with a fascinating young tech. His hinterland behind and beyond the project at hand takes up most of our conversation. He is interested in radical pedagogy in the 20th century, like Scotland’s A.S. Neill or (new to me) Soviet Russia’s Makarenko, and also in new forms of sustainable co-living and housing.
This is such a regular London experience for me - that what drives people to ply their particular niche or service is a dense complex of interests, expertises and experiences that This means there is often an ethical, or even political claim sitting not too far behind their particular offer. Something I always welcome.
My next Shoreditch stop took this to the next level. As you’ll see elsewhere in this site, amidst everything else, I am a still a working musician, singing with my brother in the 80s era pop band Hue And Cry. Let me leave a more detailed account of that life and sensibility till we’re on tour… But today was a promotional opportunity, arranged by our media office, to talk to a marketing podcast about music - and meditation.
Why music and meditation? It seems to be a thing for us now. Promoting our moody last album, Pocketful of Stones, I wrote an article about “the Singer’s Way” (original text here). It talked about how mindful practice, focusing on directed breathing exercises, had helped me in my vocal performances - mostly by calming and destressing me (anxiety of any kind goes straight to the singer’s vocal cords).
Today’s podcast was a consequence of that piece. Again, I turned up to a Shoreditch door to be led through a freelance labyrinth, finding myself in a cube with big mike and a very together young marketing executive.
We had an amazing conversation - partly driven by my interest in her fledgling new business, which was to give comms advice to “wellness” brands (most of them in the copy of Balance that was handed out at the Old Street tube station). But again, just like Google Campus, it is all too easy these days to open out what seems like a particular commercial engagement to wider, more structural concerns.
We quickly pivoted to the question of coming changes in work and occupation - this driven not just by the coming automation of routine tasks, but by the zero-carbon agenda of the next few decades. If our consumption of stuff must decrease, then both the objects in our lives, and our experience of services, will have to raise themselves in quality and durability.
As a musician, I’m smiling a little. As I wrote in the Observer a few years ago, the music business got this revolution in early - the immaterialising of music (bye-bye CDs, hello streaming), the primacy of experience (the rise of gigs as the primary commercial earner), the importance of the beautiful object (selling crafted gift boxes rather than easily broken jewel-cases).
As the futurist Bruce Sterling said in 2014: “no matter what happens, it happens to musicians first”.
We parted on great terms, and I intend to track her progress as her business moves along. One of the great joys of my life these days is finding that all the frustrated longings I had as an 80s/90s postmodernist - the appetite for diversity, the assumption of multiple interests, the dream of more fluid technologies - are all now the basic living norms of Generations Y and Z.
And the place to have that realisation, street corner by coffee shop by freelance warren, is definitely Shoreditch.
What challenge does this week bring forth for the next seven days?
The obvious one for me is how creatives across the generations can support each other. We have been in a “creative age” since the early 80s, where knowledge and feelings drive our economic and business life. Are we properly sustaining that creative reality - in our own self-maintenance, in the organisations we join and build, in the regulations and policies we seek as citizens? And how will creatives handle major trends like climate change and automation?
What’s your answers to these? Let me know directly, or use "Comments" below.