Summertime Special

In England’s distant past, long before the spread of wealth and the explosive growth of the middle classes, holidays were a rarity. Overseas holidays were unheard of, except for those gilded few who’d grown fat on the Empire and took a ‘grand tour’ of Europe for months at a time, or else went off to add new lands to said Empire.

The closest most workers got to any kind of holiday was being taken in a charabanc to the nearest seaside resort, where enforced fun would be had on piers stretching out into coastal waters. One of the highlights of such a visit would be an end-of-the-pier show, where metropolitan idols would perform song-and-dance, music hall routines for the masses. The shows were often billed as Summertime Specials.

In the world of the Small Data Forum podcast, this latest episode – 28 already – is our equivalent of an end of the pier show, our very own Summertime Special. As regular listeners will know, Thomas, Neville, and Sam don’t meet together IRL all that often. But in a tradition stretching back – ooh – as long as last December, last week we three braved metaphorical thunder, lightning, and rain to meet again at our favourite pre-pod haunt, Olivelli in the Cut, Waterloo, London.

Suitably stoked by pizza, pasta, and a surprisingly modest couple of bottles of Nero d’Avola, we set about our task of looking at the uses and abuses of data big and small in business, politics, and public life. But for only the third time in the three years we’ve been recording the podcast we did it in person.

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When April Fool’s meets Groundhog Day

So this is the episode when the three stooges of the SmallDataForum were meant to reflect wistfully on what was Great Britain exiting Greater Europe.

The irony of recording this on April Fool’s Day wasn’t lost on us.

Brexit Fool’s day is every day, these days. Our resident classicist Sam even managed to squeeze in Juvenal’s Satire VI, and even though the reference was in regard to another April Fool’s – Facebook regulation, haha – Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes might just as well mean “who regulates the regulators?”

Ah – wouldn’t that be The Great British Electorate? Well, they have spoken, just over 1,000 days ago. And what they said, means what it means. Fool’s Day and any other day.

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To regulate, or not to regulate, that is the question…

“We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.“ So the famous US Supreme Court Justice and ‘crusader for social justice’ and breaker-upper of Gilded Age monopolies, Louis D. Brandeis is said to have said, perhaps sometimes in the early 1930s.

Today, perhaps the best-known neo-Brandeisian anti-trust advocate is Tim Wu, Columbia law professor, ‘father of net neutrality’ and author of a series of books likening today’s commercial excesses – in particular in the digital space – to the ‘Gilded Age’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Of course, it is not really an either-or debate. It’s a complex and convoluted, tangled web of interests and angles, and any claimant of simple solutions has likely got a degree from snake oil university.

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25 episodes, and more than 2.5 years – plus ça change …

It’s our Silver Jubilee – 25 times SmallDataForum, and so much has happened since our first episode less than a fortnight before the EU Referendum. And yet here we are, Brexit still front and center and no one’s none the wiser.

When we started, our aim was to reflect on communicators’ needs

  • to increase the value of data,
  • to understand data and its insights to inform better business decisions,
  • to manage data from machines (data processing) and humans (turning Big Data into small, relevant, business-critical insight).

Little did we foresee how much our chosen field would be dominated by the narrative of Western democracy and society being undermined by the powers unleashed by social and digital media.

Yet here we are, with Neville discussing GDPR as the modern equivalent of the Feds nailing Al Capone for tax evasion.

Perhaps an update of The Untouchables will see Benedict Cumberbatch play DCMS Committee Chairman Damian Collins as a modern Eliot Ness. Or Christian Bale as EU Competition Commissioner Margarete Vestager, in the new tradition of the near-real-time biopic.

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Reading the runes for 2019: Brexitexit, the end of Chairman Zuck, and might China be the new Russia?

The SmallDataForum celebrated its third Christmas with a highly calorific and somewhat alcoholic Italian lunch, followed by post-prandial musings about high- and low-lights of 2018, and some crystal ball gazing for 2019.

Our regular followers / listeners – or just about anybody with any interest in tech and communication – won’t be surprised by a list topped by Facebook, and then some more Facebook (in short FB, pronounced fib). Followed by GDPR and other regulatory activities, mainly by the EU.

And of course we also touched on the topic that’s been with us from episode one, when it was called Brexit. These days, Brexitexit is beginning to sound more fitting.

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