I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not the best at using modern day technology…
A few months ago now, I had the pleasure of subscribing to Google’s Music service (mainly because I refuse to use anything Apple and their iVirus app store thing setup which hurts my computer every single time), but even now, I have so far only bothered to upload a couple of albums.
The first was an exercise album called ‘Pump It Up Until You Have a Stroke’ or something like that, which I only got to make my much needed cardio sessions a bit more bearable (yes it doesn’t work – nothing does. And that’s why I don’t even consider cardio sessions) and the second was a compilation of David Bowie’s greatest hits, for obvious reasons considering he had just passed away at the time.
Now being a man of many varied musical tastes, I’m not generally one for having musical heroes, but David Bowie would be about as close as you’d get for me. Both his music and indeed his presence permeated and punctuated my awkward adolescent years on numerous occasions. I remember watching him on ‘Top of the Pops’ for the first time, and being highly excited while at the same time, somewhat confused by what I was seeing.
I recollect one time, I was sitting in a music lesson at school, listening to a song called Time from his Aladdin Sane album (his sixth album I think it was) and wondering why, when only the preceding week I was listening to Mozart and this week I was seen listening to the words ‘Flexing like a whore, he fell wanking to the floor’ (and how this was even allowed in school). And even today, I can’t listen to the song Changes without being transported to a time, a place and an emotional state that has long since passed.
When David Bowie died early last year, it soon became pretty clear that I was far from alone in my feelings. I can’t really recall the level of media coverage and public grief and shock over the death of someone from the music world since Freddie Mercury, John Lennon or Elvis Presley had passed away. But even then, not everyone was feeling shock, grief or indeed anything at all… that’s probably not right but that’s how it felt to me at the time.
When I met up with friends the morning Bowie died, it became apparent that at least one of the younger members of the group had never even heard of him or his music.
I should have been amazed, but really, I wasn’t. In my old age, I’ve become more and more accustomed to talking about someone or something to young people that I thought was all a part of our ‘shared knowledge’ or ‘cultural experience’, only to find that it isn’t. And the excuse given is always the same…”It was well before my time mate”.
This is of course, is pure nonsense. Most of the world’s history is ‘before my time’, as it is yours.
People like Charlie Chaplin, Stanley Matthews, Mario Lanza, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson, Adolf Hitler, William Shakespeare… I could go on forever… made their impact on the world even before my time. But that doesn’t mean I have no knowledge of who they were or what they did. In fact we live in an age where it has never been easier to find out what happened ‘before my time’.
Details of the lives and achievements of anyone of note are all patiently waiting for us online at the click of a mouse. And yet paradoxically, I think that’s precisely the reason why people seem to know less and less.
Modern technology and communications have the potential to open up the world for us along with everything in it, but quite often it has the opposite effect of shutting it all out.
When I was growing up there was no internet (can you believe that?), just three TV channels and a handful of radio stations that anyone ever listened to. Add to that the fact there were pretty much the same number of newspapers as there are today and as a result, our ‘common experience’ was pretty substantial.
We all watched the same TV programmes, listened to the same radio shows and read the same newspapers. And because these media outlets were few in numbers, their output had to be both varied and wide ranging. So we were all exposed to a wide variety of material, and albeit, the same material. The result was a breadth (rather than depth) of knowledge which most people shared to some degree.
Contrast that situation with today. It’s possible to squeeze our viewing, browsing and listening down very narrow personalised channels these days.
That can be a positive thing, in that it enables us to investigate or immerse ourselves in an interest or passion as deeply as we like, but there’s a strong negative potential too.
It makes building a breadth of knowledge something we need to do consciously, rather than something that happens in the normal order of things. And if you’re not pre-disposed to building that knowledge yourself, it’s never going to happen for you.
These days, it’s perfectly possible to live in your own highly personalised informational and cultural world, and side-step ‘common knowledge’ altogether. And this is how some young whippersnapper (who shall remain nameless) can possibly reach the age of 22 having never even encountered the likes of David Bowie.
Now in the grand old scheme of things, it might not matter much that you don’t know who David Bowie is, but it doesn’t just stop there.
It’s possible for us to block out anything else that doesn’t appear of immediate interest or personal concern to us (like my website and facebook page for example).
And if we reach a point where everyone is living inside their own ultra-narrow informational and cultural bubble, that can’t be a good thing, can it? It’s ironic that something like the internet, that carries so much potential to educate, is, in reality, delivering a completely new type of ignorance for us.
But that’s enough of that nostalgic negativity…
Let’s take a quick look at a couple of things that David Bowie can teach us that might help in our own quest for personal success and fulfilment?
The first has to be that it’s okay to be different. More than that, being different brings with it huge advantages and more often than not, disproportionate rewards (which is one of the reasons I write these blogs… still waiting though 😉 ). Do what everyone else does and you get what everyone else gets – which isn’t usually very much! There are thousands of highly talented singers and musicians in the world who are barely scraping a living. But Bowie dared to be different, and as a result, stood out from the crowd. And when you combine obvious talent with a unique twist like his, you have a winning combination for sure.
The second ‘secret’ he tapped into was the benefits of adapting, evolving and changing.
Some success can be had by finding a winning approach and sticking with it, but to really hit the heights you need to keep improving yourself, changing and adapting what you offer in line with how the world is changing.
Bowie, of course, went one better than this by bringing about the changes which others would adopt and follow in an attempt to keep up with him. For most of us lesser mortals though, just keeping up will yield sufficient enough rewards.
In an ever changing world, standing still is impossible. If you do stand still, you go backwards as the world moves forward under your feet.
So I’ll leave you now with a line from the aforementioned Changes from David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album…
“And every time I thought I’d got it made it seemed the taste was not so sweet.”
Maybe there’s a clue there as to what drove him to keep on developing, evolving and pressing onwards. It carries some resonance with me, and perhaps I should also look into ways of evolving too.
So, “How the hell can I possibly evolve my business to best serve you ?”, I ask.
Answers on a postcard please (provided our ‘common knowledge’ means you actually know what one of those is).