SmallDataForum’s Diamond Jubilee

Honi soit qui mal y pense …

After seven years of vigorous podnostication, the SmallDataForum reaches its diamond anniversary. Or semi-sesquicentennial (‘half one hundred and fifty’) as Sam (of course!) informs us. Seventy-five episodes of wondering and pondering about the strange times we live in, with absolutely no end in sight.

Our almost hour-long Zoomwag starts with the battle of the micro-messaging platforms: X vs Threads, Twitter vs Meta, Elon vs Mark – the digital cage fight over the monetizable part of the networked world. Tech maven and serial early adopter and experimenter-user Neville explains it all with exemplary breadth and depth.

Social anti-social media

“Mega instant network” Threads is actually part of Instagram and should thus be called Instagram Threads. Neville highlights benefits – it’s so easy to attract an audience, just follow all your Insta friends – as well as costs:  if you decide to uninstall it, it will also uninstall Instagram.

We hear about Threads’ instant success, with more than 150m downloads and over 100m active users within days (though the latest news is that half of the early users have since left again).

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Flushable, unflushable, or lingering round the U-bend?

We start episode 74 of the Small Data Forum podcast – or “1 AB” as Thomas christens it; the first after B*ris – in what many are calling “the era past peak podcast”.

Things haven’t worked out as well for our medium of choice as Spotify predicted and gambled, and that includes the platform’s not-so-conscious uncoupling from the Sussexes. But we – like the relentless grind of British politics – carry on regardless.

Thomas recalls the halcyon days when democracy meant the executive, legislature, and judiciary: three, interlocking, interdependent branches that worked with checks and balances, each branch (or arm) keeping the other in its proper place.

In banana republics (like the US and UK), this breaks down when – usually – the army takes over; what was termed Gleichschaltung or a system of coordination or total control in Nazi Germany. There have been more than shades of this under the Johnson and Trump regimes from 2016 onwards.

The terrible two

Sam surveys the carnage in British politics in the past month.

Since we three last met, the House of Commons Privileges Committee has published its findings into the Partygate affair. Getting wind of a pre-publication draft, Johnson clearly saw the writing was on the wall for his political career inside Westminster, pronounced the Committee (and the report) a “witch-hunt”, and resigned as an MP.

He’d have been out on his ear when the report was published – recommending a 90-day suspension, triggering a Recall Petition and a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency – so rather than be pushed, he jumped. His pre-publication Trumpian rhetoric added to the severity of the punishment, and yet still Johnson didn’t care.

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We don’t do that here

“In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities.” This Aristotle quote opens one of my favourite books, Aldous Huxley’s last novel, Island (1962).

It also summarises neatly Neville’s, and to a lesser degree, Sam’s, position re the appetite and capacity for, and thus the likelihood of radical change to the British political and electoral system.

To be fair, Neville suggested not to focus on politics at all in our latest episode, and instead invest all of our podnosticating attention in the “only big news of the day”, the split of Phil and Holly. In a masterclass of persuasive communication however, Sam and I manage to talk him round to our planned discussion of the recent local elections in England and all the related fall-out.  

Chris Riddell in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/profile/chrisriddell/2023/apr/29/all

Both Neville and Sam refer to local political evidence in their respective leafy neighbourhoods in West Berkshire and East Sussex, where Conservative councillors are all but extinct.

And yet, as Sam highlights, on the local election evidence, UK-psephologist-in-chief Sir John Curtice doesn’t quite see an outright Labour majority at the next general election.

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Burn, baby, burn

Fire and music go well together. Sixties rocker Arthur Brown – a long-time resident of the liberal enclave of Lewes, home of your correspondent, Podnosticator Knowles – made an entire career out of his 1968 cult classic, Fire

Indeed, I even played roadie to him and had the honour of putting him out when he caught fire during the first chorus of Fire in a Sussex gig back in 2007, my pimple on the backside of rock ‘n’ roll history. And the first time Arthur had gone up in flames since the 1971 Windsor Jazz Festival.

The least successful rockstar of all time, John Otway, was given a 50th birthday present to remember when his fans “rigged” the charts in a totally legal way and bought him a second, top-ten hit in a 5,000-plus gig career, and that catchy ditty Bunsen Burner stormed the charts.

Its chorus features the line “Burn, baby, burn”, a lyrical echo through the ages, from The Tramps to (appropriately enough) Ash.

And “burn baby burn” is exactly what it appears the planet will be doing – even quicker than the entire combined scientific consensus has unequivocally determined it will do, thanks to our crack-like addiction to fossil fuels – if we don’t shake our very recent, very deep love of generative AI.

Sam starts episode 72 of the Small Data Forum podcast with a look at the latest developments in this new technology, whose poster boy is ChatGPT and one of whose early funders was Elon Musk. But more of the Musky one, anon.

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Evolutionary opinions

Screenshot: SDF podcast on mobile

In each episode of The Small Data Forum podcast, we pride ourselves in the “sideways look” we apply to our podnostications on the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life, with our opinions and insights that challenge accepted wisdoms.

We hear, anecdotally, that you like this informed but irreverent style.

As we evolve the podcast, we also think it’s a good time now to invite our listeners to actually tell us what they think of the podcast, its content, and our style. What you think.

And so we have our first listener survey! It’s short and simple, designed to help us gain more understanding about what you think of our podcasts, and what suggestions you care to share that will help us make them even more useful and entertaining for you.

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