TMT predictions 2015

An email exchange yesterday brought up the fact that back in the olden days – when we were saying web2.0 and all that – I used to offer up predictions for the coming year on all things Media, Tech and Telecoms. Had I given up all that I was asked. Yes, essentially.

But, as yesterday evening progressed various notions and ideas popped into my head off the back of this, and so despite myself I am going to offer up ten observations/predictions for 2015.

1. The sale of ITV: – This is starting to look more and more like a no-brainer. Virgin Media owner Liberty Global already has a growing stake and looks in prime position to launch a take-over, but other US concerns could be tempted as well as mobile networks, should BT’s takeover of EE go through. Vodafone maybe?

2. Speaking of BT and EE. I think this will go ahead and will pass the regulators. This may then start a rush for quadplay (TV, Broadband, Fixed and Mobile telecoms) for anyone not already in the game, as it become the ONLY game in town. Sky suddenly becomes a target company rather than just as acquirer company. Again Vodafone could be sniffing round.

3. Pentplay or Quadplay Plus – increase in the importance for Quadplay players of offering OTT services such as Netflix, Spotify as seamlessly incorporated offerings within their core services.

4. Facebook will add a dating function. Seriously, why not? Finder, Findr, Impretendingtobesinglr . This seems like such a logical thing to do I am really surprised it hasn’t already happened.

5. No one will be talking about social network ELLO by the end of 2015.

6. BBC will cancel ‘The Voice’ after this current series. Meanwhile, the BBC Trust will in all likelihood back the call to make BBC Three an online only proposition, because we all know that a better use of that money is providing a BBC+1 channel. Let’s invest in immediate time-shifted repeats rather than new content, that’s what I say.

7. Podcasting is cool again. Thank you SERIAL. Yes, not only is podcasting cool again, but SERIAL demonstrated that you can do long form documentary and (DUE TO THE MANNER IT WAS PRESENTED) drama with it too.

8. Whichever party ‘wins’ the UK election in May, will continue to attempt to ‘protect’ us by further eroding our civil liberties. Making us less free under the pretext of protecting our freedom.

9. Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung etc will continue to make new bright shinny things you want to own even though there is clearly nothing wrong with the previous bright shinny thing of its type you bought. [I like look of ASUS ZenFone 6 For example. ]

10. I will launch a pointless mobile app for no other reason than to prove I can – let’s face it that does seem to be the main reason for about 80% of apps.

NSPCC hits right tone with ”share aware’ advice

I have a complicated relationship with attempts to ‘protect’ children online. Whilst the intention is almost always genuine and heartfelt the actual methods can sometimes be excessive. Not so these current ads from the NSPCC, which I like very much. Their “Be Share Aware” interactive guide for parents is also pretty good [and Share Aware PDF] Sensible;e advice and based on communication and education not censorship and blocking. Well done.

One woman’s walk to the sea. Emma Hooper delivers a promising debut

Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Emma Hooper
Penguin Books (UK)
Fig Tree
UK Pub Date: Jan 29 2015

‘I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.’

So begins a book about an eighty-three year old woman’s wish to see the sea. With the apparent early onset of Alzheimer’s/ dementia, Etta gets up one morning and decides it is time to tick off her final unfulfilled wish – to see the sea. After a life lived in the farmland of Saskatchewan, she wants to see the sea, so she packs a few basic provisions and sets out to walk 2,000 miles to her destiny. For some the bells of unbelievability will already be ringing loud within the first few pages of this book. But, do you read for believability? Read on.

When her husband Otto realises she has gone, he respects her wishes for him not to follow her, instead waiting patiently for word and for her eventual return home. Neighbour and friend Russell sees instead the madness and danger of the endeavour and sets out to find Etta. Etta is oblivious to this and just has one goal in mind. Loneliness might be a problem, but she soon has a companion in the form of a coyote, who she names James – after he sister’s unborn child. The question of whether ‘James’ exists or not is left to us the reader [Also I had to smile at the, presumably intentional music joke Etta … James]. There is a sense of the mystical throughout the story, and the blurred line that can exist between fantasy and reality. It’s not just with James: both Etta and Otto comment on feeling pulled into one another’s dreams. Is that what this story is, just a dream? Does it matter?

On a most basic level, the book is a simple story about a little old lady going for a walk – There are obvious echoes of David Lynch (The Straight Story) in the story – but also, strangely, Homer (The Odyssey)

But it is much more than that. As Etta’a journey proceeds in the now, we cast back to the past and how Otto, Russell and Etta met, how Otto and Russell’s friendship was bonded and how both fell under the spell of Etta, the one woman they both loved. It is a book about letters. It starts with Etta’s announcing her journey and continue as she writes to Otto from her adventure and he attempts to write back, though never knowing ‘where’ he should send letters, sometime just piling them on the table next to him once written. This is a reverse of how their relationship began with Etta, who had been his school teacher, agreeing to act as Otto’s pen-pan as he sets off to war. The letters allow the characters an honesty and provide the glue that has bound them together though the years. The written word has always been a key feature in their relationship. Even as she goes on her journey, Etta leaves Otto recipes and details of how to make all the foods she has prepared for them all of their married life. Words, at least in the form of newsprint, are also central in Otto’s efforts to keep boredom at bay as he waits for news of Etta, as he sets about making animals out of paper mache.

It is also a story of unfulfilled dreams – not just for Etta, but for Russell too, who was kept out of the war and then anchored in Saskatchewan by Etta’s presence. Her disappearance cuts the ties that have bound him to home too. He has always been the weak one. At last he’s free.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James is an accomplished debut from Hooper. There is a warmth to her characters, even if they are not always as fully rounded and fleshed out as you’d like – I never really felt I knew Russell (but isn’t that just like life). Etta is a strong and determined lead character whose pioneering spirit – real or fantasy – is engaging, and it’s hard not to feel a touch of sadness for Otto left behind by the two people he loves.

I’m sure this book will connect with a lot of people, and having mentioned David Lynch’s – The Straight Story above I could also see it being filmed, though perhaps slightly more linear than in the text. I think the nicest thing you can say about any artists first work, be it a painting, a record ( and actually Hooper is also a musician) a film or a novel is that it makes you want to see what they do next. I finished Etta and Otto and Russell and James with that feeling. It was good, but I sense there is still better to come, and I for one am already looking forward to it.

Alice Hoffman’s latest teen novel is gentle and sweet but still enchanting

Alice Hoffman
Simon and Schuster UK Children’s
Pub Date: Feb 26 2015

It has been a while since I last read anything by Alice Hoffman. There was a period when I pretty much devoured every book she released [from Turtle Moon to The Probable Future]. Then around Blackbird House I started to lose interest. The magical and enchanting started to feel twee and annoying and as I result I pretty much took Hoffman off my reading radar. Until now. I had never read any of Hoffman’s books aimed at the young adult market – she has written seven before her latest – so this felt like starting anew. NightBird is classic Hoffman – magic, witches, true love. It is set in a small town in Massachusetts – Sidwell, ‘where every person is said to tell the truth and the apples are so sweet people come from as far as New York City during the apple festival’, and the town’s main tourist draws outside of the apples is the ‘monster’, a giant bird or dragon, that is said to stalk the town.

The book’s protagonist is Twig Fowler, a 12 year old girl, who lives with her mother and ‘secret’ older brother. Two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that condemned the male bloodline to be afflicted with a deformity and Twig’s brother James is one such person. So the family keep to themselves avoiding any friendships that could put James’ existence at risk. But then a new family move into the town – relatives of the town’s famous witch – and very quickly it looks like history may repeat itself. What follows is a sweet tale of friendships, love and tolerance, with Twig as the tales delightful lead character.

I had actually forgotten how magical reading an Alice Hoffman novel could be. It is sweet, endearing and whilst the plot is rather sign-posted (even I suspect for the target teen readership) is in never the less enchanting. It’s gentle, sweet, non-scary happy ever after fare, but there’s nothing wrong with a little of that every now and again, is there? It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom, grim realism, and big scares all the time does it? And whilst I dare say most of its readers will be girls, as is sadly probably been the case with Hoffman’s adult fiction, boys should not be put off reading it.

Anne Tyler delivers once again in final? novel

A Spool of Blue Thread
Anne Tyler
Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
Chatto & Windus
Pub Date: Feb 10 2015

When announcing she was working on her twentieth novel A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler – who has spent a career avoiding interviews and self promotion – told the press that this was going to be the last book she planned to finish. For fans, such as myself, this was not news we wanted to hear. I became a fan in the early eighties when I read her ninth novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. This book immediately preceded what I believe was Tyler at her best in a flawless five novel period between 1985 and 1998 featuring: The Accidental Tourist (1985), Breathing Lessons (1988), Saint Maybe (1991), Ladder of Years (1995) and A Patchwork Planet (1998). This is not to say I haven’t liked or, indeed in some instances, loved her most recent five: Back When We Were Grownups (2001), The Amateur Marriage (2004), Digging to America (2006), Noah’s Compass (2010), and The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012), but those thirteen years between 1985 and 1998 delivered some of my favourite books of all time. I dare say they were also key reasons why both Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby nominated Tyler as ‘the greatest novelist writing in English’ around a decade ago.

Still, she is not everyone’s cup of tea. A common criticism of Tyler has always been that she writes gentle repetitive and formulaic novels about relationships, which has always seemed a bit lazy to me, akin to dismissing the works of Jane Austen on the same basis.

I think writing convincingly and warmly about relationships is actually quite hard to do. It is hard to take characters and just make the daily minutiae of life the main driver of your plot, but that is often the case with Tyler [Marilynne Robinson is probably the only other current writer I think does it as well]. Her writing may seem simple and economical but that simplicity in Tyler’s writing can, at first, delude you into thinking that she is not the literary master craftsman, she is. There is a deep warmth to her writing, and though her world (Baltimore) is packed with quirky, irksome, and often exasperating characters, there has always, for me, remained a believability to both her character’s dialogue and humanity.

As such, A Spool of Blue Thread, doesn’t really offer up anything new: it is a typical Tyler novel. In it we take a journey through three (or four depending on how exacting you wish to be) generations of the Whitshanks family. At the centre of the story is the family home built by Junior Whitshank. It is this house and its entry into, and exit from, Whitshank history that provides the bones upon which the story is fleshed out. It is here that Abby and Red bring up their four children – Denny and Stem and daughters Jenny and Amanda; it is here that Red’s parents Junior and Linnie Mae had laid their roots against the backdrop of a disagreement over a porch swing; and it is here that Abby and Red’s children return as Abby starts to show signs of dementia and Red gets progressively more deaf. It’s about love, death, obligation, the secrets we keep and the petty jealousies we harbour: about family essentially.

The book touches on themes that are common to many of Tyler’s books in particular that common tension between familial responsibility and independence, as reflected predominately in this book though the character of Denny. He’s the restless son, hoping from place to place and job to job to avoid merely following his father into the family business. He feels he should be the most important family member despite regularly casting his family aside and vanishing from their lives for periods of time. He is then jealous and unreasonable about the position of those who stayed. He’s a classic Tyler character.

People do sometime forget when talking about Tyler than is has always been a lightly comic writer, pouncing on absurdities and quirks. One of my favourite moments in the book is where she actually casts her net back to The Accidental Tourist and Macon Leary in one amusing passage discussing Amanda’s husband Hugh. A man never short of an idea on how to make it rich, Hugh owns a restaurant called Thanksgiving that just serves Turkey dinners, but his latest idea is to make travel easier for the reluctant planner/traveler. This made me smile.

It is by no means a flawless book. I finished it not sure the structure totally worked for me. I also felt slightly disappointed that Amanda and Jenny were less well drawn than Denny and Stem, and that the book’s initial sections gave the false impression that the book was going to be all about Denny. That said, these are minor quibbles and if A Spool of Blue Thread does indeed turn out to be the last book we see from Tyler, it is still a worthy exit piece, so saviour the final time you can tell people you’re reading the ‘new’ Anne Tyler. And, with no new novels to look forward to, I guess it will give us all a better excuse to re-read some of the old ones one more time and reconnect again with the likes of Ian Bedloe, Delia Grinstead, and Macon Leary. Here’s to that.