Ramblings on loose networks and social connections

I went to a family funeral and got to think about loose networks and social connections.

In Ireland the tradition for a funeral is:

  • As soon as possible after death, the body goes to the funeral home. A coroner will have had to sign off on it
  • The body is put on exhibition in the coffin at the funeral home and family greet visitors who come and pay tribute to the deceased. The coffin is then closed and taken to the church in a procession, which slows as it passes the deceased’s home
  • The following day a funeral mass is held, followed by a procession to the cemetery and then the burial

This all happens really fast; usually three days from time of death to grave. Those of the family that can make it home try to, but there isn’t much time. So those who are a long haul flight away generally are excused from coming back home.

In the rural west of Ireland word goes out through a number of channels

  • Local radio – Galway Bay FM lists deaths and funeral information at regular times throughout the day
  • Local newspapers – the deaths feature on their web sites and in their print editiions (depending on publications and the timings of the death)
  • RIP.ie – a web service that people can consult to see what funerals are going on in their vicinity
  • Word of mouth then does the rest. Whether its gossip between neighbours, across the counter at a local shop or announced from the pulpit at mass

Local media and traditions have carved out a distinctive niche that doesn’t involve Facebook or other social media platform

The people that come along include:

  • Family
  • Relatives (second and third cousins, families who are connected via marriage)
  • Close friends
  • People who you knew but may have lost touch with like school friends
  • People you’ve done business with. In my relatives case it was agricultural  contractors and the local hardware store – which has a much wider range of stock than your average ToolStation or Home Depot to deal with the requirements of farms
  • Business relatives and friends of the bereaved

For the bereaved, the process does as good a job as you can helping the family deal with grief. In the case of my relative who had a sudden heart attack and died it provided closure. The person was eulogised and then sent on the next part of their journey onward.

For a rural community, made up of small towns and farms it presents an opportunity to reinforce loose networks and business connections. In our family’s case the farm as a business is passed down from generation-to-generation.

It becomes important for for business people to attend these events to cement business relationships. In our family’s case some of the visitors were business connections of one of my Uncle’s (who is still living) rather than the deceased.

Attending these events requires commitment. You had attendees travelling over an hour to pay their respects.

I was a bit surprised by how robust these loose connections were with relatively little reinforcement. It seems the habit of the funeral process plays its part.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week:

I spent the weekend travelling back to Ireland for a family funeral. Despite the occasion it was good to see some members of the family whom I haven’t seen since I was a teenager. It also cause me to reflect on some things, it inspired my post ‘Ramblings on consumption‘ and you might see similarly inspired future posts. From a social point of view I have also been getting online practice of the card game Twenty Five; which has the same impact in rural Irish society that mahjong has for Chinese communities. If any of you want a game let me know.

Interesting case study on Chevrolet’s celebration of Children’s Day in China. I have put the video below so that you  can see the project, its a nice piece of work. Secondly it is worth reflecting on how this project fits into the changing media landscape. This exemplifies the cross over between brand advertising and corporate communications work that is now happening around the world. Brand advertising is leading this charge into PR’s heartland and taking some of PR’s largest budgets. In a separate note The Holmes Report found that the industry’s top inhouse PR leaders have had their budgets halved over the past six years.

Enjoy the case study

Winston Sterzel on shooting with China Central Television (CCTV) – think of it as PBS or the domestic BBC television service with Chinese characteristics.

Heathrow Express’ advert featuring The Krankies was an interesting choice of creative. It’s very consistent with their brand and mildly subversive.

GUCCI – Why are you scared of me WeChat campaign features a robot built by Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University clad from head to toe in Gucci. When is the last time you saw a Chanel talking about:

  • What it means to be human
  • Ray Kurzweil’s concept of the singularity, where machine intelligence exceeds human intelligence?

It then reflects on the benefits that technology have brought to date:

Because of technology, we have turned fairy tales into animations and created memories of countless human childhoods.Because of technology, home entertainment equipment brings joy to the family, which has inspired many children’s future dreams and aspirations. Even two strangers, when they talk about the common memories they used to have because of the popularity of technology, can seem to understand each other in an instant.

The implication being that new forms of shared memories may bond robotics in spite of negative factors like the ‘uncanny valley’.

Ramblings on consumption

We think of consumption as part of the very stuff of modern life. I clear out items on eBay. My Mum and Dad have boxes of things unopened since they moved house in 1981. A lady who lived up the road who died last year had people working for five days to clear out the things she had hoarded. The house had been packed with items from ceiling to roof.

The role that consumption plays varies but taps into deep emotional ties. I felt both an emotional journey that I can only equate to grief and a certain release on getting rid of my record collection. I moved country for work and the bulk of it had to go. What was more distressing was not being able to make sure that it went to a good home at the time. It had defined me, brought me joy and latterly had been a weight that I only felt by its subsequent absence.

Consumption and identity are also intertwined.

In my pre-internet days you could get a sense of someone by visiting their sitting room or their bedroom.

  • What kind of books did they read?
  • What posters or pictures did they have?
  • Was there sports scarves, or signed shirts?
  • Family photographs
  • Taxidermied animals in either rural or ‘hunting, shooting or fishing’ households
  • What kind of videos did they have?
  • Where they a gamer?
  • What CDs, vinyl and cassettes did they have?
  • Did they have a system of hi-fi separates? What were the components like? Did they have headphones?

You were able to build up a picture in your head about the person, their tastes and some historic touch points.

Much of this now remains out of sight in the sitting room with the rise of cloud based services. But the picture is still here, though you will need a screen to see it.

For many people homes are a mix of the digital and the analogue. Some young people may adopt analogue items for ‘authenticity’ in their lives. For older people its the archeology of their lives. Photos not converted to digital scans. Music that had meaning or was at a certain stage in their life. Souvenirs from holidays.

If I look at my own parents:

  • They were more passionate about active collection of music in the 1960s before they settled down. They have finally got rid of a Philips mono turntable in plastic that hadn’t worked for years and a Sony reel to reel tape player. Both devices chosen for their luggabilty rather than quality. They had lived transcient young work lives, working away from home and living in digs
  • My Dad had spare time from shift work that he used to read a mix of reference books and fiction from the 1950s – the early 1980s. Since then he mostly reads caravan and crafting books
  • My Dad has a vast amount of tools in various states of repair that he accumulated. From when he started his apprenticeship to electronic meters bought this year
  • My Mum has a mix of cookery books from the 1950s to the 1990s and notebooks stuffed with clippings from magazines of recipes. In the notebooks are hand scribbled recipes that she exchanged with friends
  • They have carpets and stools that they crafted from kits in the 1960s before multi-channel TVs

With time, more hasn’t mean’t better ‘quality’ consumption. Technology has provided us with more reliable electronics. Unless you are a hi-fi buff you are unlikely to know about the fragility of valve electronics or the weight of discrete solid state circuits.

Globalisation has brought consumption of more ‘just good enough’ products. My parents still have some of the furniture that they bought when they got married. It isn’t Vitra or great Danish design, its mass producted items of its time. But the quality of the construction and materials contrasts with flat pack furniture bought later.

Less consumption seems to have had a number of sides to it:

  • More conscious choice on quality. You couldn’t just order another on Amazon
  • Greater focus on curation of items
  • Less clothes but of a better quality
  • A macro view on ‘need’, rather than the micro view defined by the now

You had the vintage well tailored tweed jacket or furniture that had been in the house for generations. In years to come what will all the delapidated Billy bookshelves and tchotchke fridge magnets say about us? Maybe this is a good part of the authenticity at the centre of Peter York’s ‘Hipster Handbook‘?

I started to think about these things following a death in the family. My uncle lived in the ancestral home; which is a small farm in the west of Ireland. I had spent a good deal of my childhood there with him and other relatives. Life had got in the way of going back in person and there had been bigger gaps in time to my visits than I thought.

Going back to the farm brought thoughts about consumption into sharp focus for me. My Uncle’s approach to consumption was very different to mine and likely yours as a reader.

  • He never owned a car or combustion engine-powered farm machinery. He hired in contractors and machinery when it was needed
  • As a child I had played amongst decaying wrought iron horse drawn equipment, that would have been used before the widespread use of tractors
  • I can remember when electricity was installed
  • Had a modern television but didn’t use it. He actively preferred the radio as his media of choice
  • He had a solid fuel cooker that provided central heating for the house. He also had an electric cooker and microwave oven, but refused to use the microwave
  • His music collection had been gifted to him by family over the years. They assumed that he liked local artists playing Irish traditional music. I don’t think that he went through the process I had done of exploring new music and tastes
  • He regularly read a local paper, but owned no books bar a booklet on the value of notes and coins
  • He had never travelled for leisure, but had been gifted souvenirs from my cousins. These came from Donegal to Dubai
  • Presents that he had been given decades ago remained in a drawer in case he would need them, from ties to aftershave
  • The family had tried to force him to have a cellphone and he only relented when he was in hospital during his later years and a neighbour gifted it to him
  • His idea of interactive gaming was a Benson & Hedges-branded deck of playing cards with four people around a table for a game of ‘Twenty Five

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His house remained unchanged from when my Grandmother had lived there. There wasn’t his ‘footprint’ in the house at all. From a personal point of view it meant that I could understand my Uncle in terms of ‘what’ he did; but not the ‘inner life’ that we are used to understanding through ‘reading the tea leaves’ of consumption: books, music etc. At the time I came away perplexed, a mystery that I would never understand.

He lived in many respects a pre-industrial agrian approach to life. Time moves at the pace of the farm work rather than the clock. Your mark on the world was in the continued existence of the homestead.

This brought into sharp focus for me the newness and ‘abnormality’ of modern consumerism. Perhaps ownership of the land provided the ‘weight’ that mass consumerism provides for many of the rest of us? And what would it mean if you had felt that ‘weight’ all of your life as my Uncle would have as the oldest son in the family?

In contrast, my Grandmother had been more modern in her attitude to consumerism. She loved the television. She got rid of old wooden chairs that would need the occasional coat of paint for black powder coated steel and vinyl cushion seats.

Into her late 80s she loved DVDs of traditional Irish music performances. A tape of electronica and early rap that I made at the age of 15 so she could understand what I was into at the time was a step too far for her.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Dubliner Rosemary Smith is a 79 year old woman who owned her own driving school. But from the 1960s through the 1970s she was one of the world’s foremost rally drivers. With the right support, she could have done so much more. Renault decided to put her behind the wheel of a single seater racing car. Rallying and racing are different disciplines, but Smith still had some of the magic as you could see in this video

Westbam featured in a short film talking about how he started off and the intersection of music and culture in Berlin during 1989

American Petroleum Institute has put together a video reminding the public of all (ok just a small amount of) the stuff that oil actually goes into. When Teslas rule the roads, we’ll still need oil

The sound track of my week has been various mixes from DJ Nature

Campfield Futon – Snow Peak – I love the design and quality of Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak. The Campfield Futon is an amazingly flexible piece of furniture that would be great outdoors or in an apartment

Jump Around – 25 years later

It’s hard to believe that the House of Pain’s Jump Around turned 25 last week. The iconic intro from ‘Harlem Shuffle’ used to be a call to the dance floor when I used to play it on Wednesday night sets at a late closing wine bar in the North West of England.

The video fired my love of American workwear, previously I’d only really seen this worn on African-American  artists. I loved the form follows function, timeless style and burly nature of the garments. I hunted down supplies of Carhartt and Dickies in Leeds and Covent Garden – it’s kept me warm and dry ever since.

More importantly it was emblematic of an Irish blue collar swagger that the UK Irish community just didn’t have. The closest thing we had was the shambolic Pogues or wit of Dave Allen which he welded like a katana in the hands of a samurai. We were much more heads down as the troubles in Northern Ireland and sectarianism impacted our lives.

This was a spectacularly mean-spirited time; where the government used the police to beat the miner’s strike into submission and wilfully demolished the weak industrial base to build the financial services sector. Acid house and rave were created partly because the youth wanted to escape through hedonism.

The post Good Friday Irish experience of Irish emigrants just a few years later was rather different. Britain was on its way to Cool Britannia liberalism – when being in an Irish pub, no longer meant keeping an eye out for Special Branch agent provocateurs or well-known grasses.