“It is impossible,” Adam Lent argues Small is Powerful, “to imagine the strait-laced, deferential generation of the 1940s and 1950s taking to YouTube to share their latest self-penned song, their deepest thoughts on their mental illness or their customisation of any manner of product from film clip to a complex piece of games software.”
We were very lucky to recently have Adam come to talk to us about his book and stimulate an excellent discussion on its themes. We’ll be organising more discussion events with authors and thinkers.
In his book, Adam cites the research of Ronald Inglehart from the University of Michigan as justifying his view that there has been a generational value change. “As older materialist generations have died out, the populations of the advanced economies have become far more focused on autonomy and self-expression than was the case throughout most of the 20th century.”
It is this shift that explains, according to Adam, why people today engage with YouTube in ways that they wouldn’t have done in, say, the Jewellery Quarter of 1962 – which we can look back upon thanks to the BFI Film Archive.
As YouTube wasn’t around in 1962, obviously, we can’t know for sure how Brummies of yesteryear would have used it. Equally obviously, the Brummies of today couldn’t express themselves in the ways that they do through tools like YouTube if they didn’t exist. It is not, though, Adam contends, these platforms that have changed people; they go with the grain of generational change in attitudes towards self-expression.
The Brum Bloggers network has 400 members. These are hyper self-expressive. Among them is Nosh & Breks, the Gastronomic Gorman, Brumderland and Nutella Tasha. All of whom we were pleased to have visit 1000 Trades to review our recent Kebablyon residency.
They didn’t have bloggers in 1962. Nor did they have WordPress or the other digital tools of bloggers. As we can’t know what people in the 1960s would have made of YouTube, we can’t know how they might have got on with WordPress. But WordPress is another platform that facilitates self-expression.
If WordPress and bloggers had been around in the 1960s, they wouldn’t have had gourmet kebabs, such as those lovingly served up by Kebablyon, to write about. The Birmingham food scene has exploded in the past decade or so. This is part of a bigger move toward greater food choice – itself encouraged by the enhanced personalisation Adam flags. “The food industry in the UK introduced 1,030 new products in 1970,” Adam reports. “This doubled to 2,016 in 1980 and multiplied by nine times to 9,192 new introductions by 1990.”
Wine variety is also expanding – as we learnt at a wine tasting with Sam Olive and Tom Craven at 1000 Trades earlier this week. Over the past century or so, the popularity of grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon has tended to mean that more of this grape is grown around the world – at the expense of local grape varieties.
There is a counter revolution in favour of these local varieties that Sam and Tom – along with 1000 Trades – are supporting. Tom visits small vineyards, sourcing distinctive grapes, and puts these wines into bags-in-boxes. Sam gets these boxes to us and others who recognise the advantages of bag-in-box. It provides fantastic, original wine at lower cost – both financially and in terms of carbon.
As YouTube and WordPress are platforms, 1000 Trades is a platform too. In the physical world, not the digital world.
We are, among other things, showcasing the work of local artists like Thomas Parry and Barbara Gibson – curated by Tina Francis. We worked with the likes of Jon Bounds, Helen Miles, BrumPic and Tim Cornbill to create a mural that depicts ‘the formative historical moments in the contemporary Brummie mind’. On 6 October, National Poetry Day, local publisher Emma Wright will be hosting a poetry party.
One respect in which the Jewellery Quarter of 2016 is no different from the Jewellery Quarter of 1962 is its reverence from craft. Some of the styles and forms of craft that we are showcasing may not have been around in 1962. But making the special and unique has long been what this neighbourhood has been about.
Preserving and deepening this will move the Jewellery Quarter further in the direction of the world that Adam describes. It is not a world without its challenges. Without those who would stifle the creativity that Adam – and 1000 Trades – celebrates.
With all the force that a neighbourhood bar and kitchen can muster, 1000 Trades will resist these regressive forces. In a world where small is powerful, where we are fortunate to collaborate with so many talented people, within a listed building that forms part of a locality with such strong crafting traditions, this may be more powerful than you might imagine.