Is ‘conversational copywriter’ just another marketing term to add to bullshit bingo? Quite possibly, yes. But, however you want to define it, the copywriting landscape is evolving.
‘Copywriter’ in its purest form used to be, and in many circles still is, the catch-all name for the token words person. And in recent years we’ve also seen a shift into niches such as technical copywriter, SEO copywriter, creative copywriter, marketing copywriter etc, etc.
It’s a word that a lot of us hate as it’s reductive, misleading and even just plain ugly. But it’s the one we’ve got. So why not throw an adjective in front of it to give it a little more character?
With that in mind, here’s why I think the conversational copywriter is going to be the next big thing for the marketer’s arsenal.
The world of design used to be dominated by graphic and web designers. But in recent years, (thanks to the growth of technology and the increasing empowerment of the consumer) they’ve had to make room for user experience design – or UX – to get a look in, too.
More and more companies are putting thought and attention into their UX strategies, and a UX rep or entire specialist teams are becoming typical features in any organisation worth its salt.
But is something lacking?
At its core, UX is all about presenting information in a way that is useful and accessible to the end user. It’s about what the person experiences on a website, how they interact with the content and creating seamless navigation.
And this is as much about words, tone and messaging as it is about design and navigation. So, where’s the focus on UX copywriting?
Specialist UX writers exist, and UX writing as a whole is certainly a growing medium. But I think it’s about to get a hell of a lot bigger.
You can’t load a news site without seeing a headline on AI, the Internet of Things or automation. What a day to be alive. But it is true that technology is slowly seeping into every element of our lives – and we’re loving it.
But pleasant as it is to imagine that there’s a friendly copywriter sat typing furiously inside every machine we use, the reality is, technology’s automated ‘voice’ is growing.
Combined with the rise of UX, this has created the need for conversational user interfaces (UI), aka platforms that mimic a conversation with a real human.
But to build these platforms, and to build them well, we’ll need more people that can write for them. However ridiculous this sentence reads; a human touch is needed for giving voice to a robot that sounds like a human.
The number of writers that specialise in conversational UI will surely grow to meet this need.
According to PwC, 35% of consumers ranked ‘trust in brand’ among their top three reasons for choosing which retailers to shop at. And look up any advice on marketing to millennials and the word ‘authenticity’ will undoubtedly feature.
Audiences will settle for nothing short of authentic. If trust is at all in question, they’ll simply take their business elsewhere.
The concept naturally extends to tone of voice – one of the key ways of building (and losing) trust along the user journey. ‘Conversational’ is becoming a more common stylistic tone across the board (although it has to be said, with varying levels of success).
There’s a difference between writing in a ‘human’ voice conversationally and writing for a robot in a ‘conversational’ way (with a chatbot for example). It’s a nuance that is often unfortunately missed. To quote my editor, Libby: “Don’t wish me a good day! You’re a machine!” And she’s not alone… 48% feel that it’s creepy if a chatbot pretends to be human, while 60% feel patronised if a chatbot starts asking how their day is going.
To project voices that are authentic and that people respond well to, we’ll need more specialist copywriters powering the technology to achieve the right nuances.
I’m no business mogul, but I know that it’s harder than ever for businesses and brands to stand out. Over-saturation of markets, a huge amount of competition – cutting through the noise, remaining relevant and achieving longevity is a challenge.
But tone of voice and copywriting can be a key differentiator.
Look at MailChimp Paddy Power, the Dave channel, Old Spice, Firebox, Bellroy, Dollar Shave Club and more. Their tones of voice are recognisable and powerful in a myriad of ways.
So much copywriting out there online, in print, at events – wherever – is just terrible. Why not be the organisation that champions it, and bring your voice to the fore?
The copywriting renaissance is long overdue, but it is coming. It’s happened for video, it’s happened for design and it’s happened for UX.
It’s now time for copywriting, and in particular, the ‘conversational’ copywriter – to finally get its time in the sun.
Before I kick things off, if you haven’t yet seen ‘Hereditary’, ‘Get Out’, ‘The Witch’ or ‘Housebound’, I’ll be dropping all sorts of mad spoilers so you might want to leave this page. Alternatively you could bookmark it, reassess your priorities, run to a cinema and then you’ll be good to go. Let’s continue!
If you’re a fan of scary films like me, you’ve probably heard words to this effect when you suggest watching a horror on movie night. Swiftly followed by “slashers and gore are so gross”, “what kind of sadist wants to be scared” or the more and more common; “they’re all the same these days, you can guess the ending”.
These are all reasonable, if slightly reductive, points. And sometimes horrors do glorify gratuitous violence, give you nightmares and become overly-predictable. This last point is especially true. Just check the average horror film rating on IMDb, it’s rarely higher than the typical drama, comedy or thriller. Not like those good old golden days that had ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Shining’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, right?
So modern horror films haven’t generally had a great rap. Until now. The change? A wave of new directors taking a slower, more intelligent approach to the genre than the ‘Human Centipede’s of this world.
Ok, so not everyone loved the ending to 2018’s ‘modern Exorcist’, but good god did it awesomely play with your mind through various push and pull pacing techniques. One minute it’s crazy as hell action action action before it’s then paaainfully slow.
One scene in particular sticks in my mind:
Peter (played by the incredibly expressive Alex Wolff) races home in the car while his sister Charlie (the suitably mysterious Milly Shapiro) hyperventilates in the backseat due to eating peanuts (despite an allergy). Peter races on, swerves to avoid an animal and then there is a horrible thud as we hear, not see, Charlie’s head hit a telephone post. We don’t see Charlie, we don’t see the animal. We simply see Peter, frozen in his seat. Too terrified to do anything or look into the rear-view mirror. Slowly, Peter then drives home, parks and walks up to his room in an apparent daze. The camera silently still stays on Peter as we hear the dreadful scream of Annie (Toni Colette) discovering her beheaded daughter the next morning.
Director Ari Aster’s debut deliberately toys with the audience, but not in an arrogant or for-its-own-sake way. He masterfully withholds shots and sound to illustrate the true, senseless horror of trauma. And we, the viewers, are just one example of the various doll house inhabitants meticulously manipulated throughout, to look where we’re told, hear what we’re told and be fully at the mercy of ‘Hereditary’.
‘Get Out’ was one of the best films of 2017, rightly winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and bagging a decent crop of nominations to boot. The twist was also darker and weirder than I thought it was going to be – a rare thing to say about a modern horror.
Part racial satire, part mysterious thriller, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut beautifully glides through genres and smartly builds up the hints and symbolism around the principal themes of vision and distortion.
It’s all about the notion of sight and really ‘seeing’, viewpoints and perspectives and even on a more literal level, eyes themselves. Take the still above of protagonist Chris (played by the exceptional Daniel Kaluuya), the most recognisable promotional image from the film. His eyes are what stand out. Wet, shiny, giant and red. What is he seeing? What is he realising? What has happened? Why is he seemingly frozen in pure, unadulterated fear?
As we progress through the film, we realise that every shot, every line and every facial expression has something to say. Some deeper meaning. There are darker truths at work if only we’re able to see them.
There aren’t many films (to my knowledge) that feature a goat named Black Phillip as the devil incarnate, but here we are. Kidding aside though, Robert Eggers’s 2015 feature debut ‘The Witch’ is a spectacularly bleak vacuum of claustrophobia, paranoia and intensity.
The cast is fantastic, the plot is great and the script is suitably minimalist, but it is the cinematography and the broader tone created that give ‘The Witch’ its power. The best way I can think to describe it is it’s like this cloying, dank filter permeates each shot. Like a sickness. The bleakness of the colours, the trees that loom imposingly over the family, the almost painfully stark mise-en-scène. All of this helps the film possess an intriguing cinematic quality, with noticeable hints of John Hillcoat’s post-apocalyptic ‘The Road’, Alejandro Amenábar’s ‘The Others’ and Tomas Alfredson’s ‘Let the Right One In’.
Every shot has an ominous sense of ‘otherness’ to it, whether in a mysterious supernatural fashion or in a more unblemished, puritanical and devout way. It’s hard to watch but it’s equally hard to look away.
We know that horrors are much-maligned, plus they say that comedy is supposedly much harder to pull off than drama – so for Gerard Johnstone’s 2014 film ‘Housebound’ to smash it on both counts is really quite something.
The low-budget, Kiwi movie follows Kylie (a wonderfully mopey Morgana O’Reilly) as she is forced to return to her childhood home to live under house arrest with her overbearing mother (the scene-stealing Rima Te Wiata).
All the classic horror tropes you’d expect are there and are hit well, with the art of suggestion à la ‘Babadook’ playing as big a part as the characters in the maze- of a house. But it’s the humour that steals the show. From an opportune ‘righto!’ to an absurdist rant from Wiata; the script is immaculate and the comic timing is absolutely on point. Exhibit A:
Amos: What are you gonna do against a hostile spirit? You just gonna crack jokes?
Kylie: No, I am going to smash it in the face.
Amos: You cannot punch ectoplasm.
These four recent slow burn horrors are bringing new life to a genre that many had written off. We’re seeing films that are slower, more three-dimensional and much more likely to linger in the brain long after the film has ended.
Maybe it’s just coincidence or maybe we’re in the midst of a lucky streak, but what’s amazing is that all these films are directorial debuts.
In most jobs, it takes a bit of time to warm into your role. An Olympian isn’t born overnight, just as a great actor rarely starts out with the role of their career (George Clooney in ‘Grizzly II: The Concert’ comes to mind).
But maybe the rules just don’t apply for film directors.
Are we alone in the universe? What’s lurking under Trump’s wig? Is Shia LaBoeuf insane or just trolling us? These are legitimate life questions. One question, however, that I just don’t understand, is why more people don’t watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Carol Vorderman herself could not answer this conundrum.
This blog is for any of those annoying on-the-fencers, anyone who thinks the show is “not their bag,” and for anyone who needs to send a would-be fan some much-needed literature. I’ll try not to include any big spoilers but it’s going to be a struggle so bear with me. Or just do us all a favour and go and watch it…
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the best TV show and people need to know. Here are my reasons why.
In “the Gang,” we find Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton), Deandra “Dee” Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson), Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day), Ronald “Mac” McDonald (Rob McElhenney) and Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito).
Or in other words,
They’re all just awful.
If it wasn’t enough already that the main cast is awesome, the supporting cast is equally spectacular. There’s the milk-drinking, robe-clad, incest-loving McPoyle Brothers (a great Halloween costume if ever I’ve heard one), the “street rat” Rickety Cricket (who used to be a priest) and Charlie’s creepy uncle Jack, a man obsessed with his small hands.
“I don’t know how many years on this Earth I got left. I’m gonna get reeeeeal weird with it.”
Whether chasing “delicious nose clams” or crawling out of a sofa oiled-up and naked, Devito’s Frank Reynolds is beautifully repulsive. Most people will have seen him as the crazy dad in Matilda or the pasty villain in Batman Returns, but he’s even more over-the-top here. Every self-respecting person needs Frank Reynolds as their spirit animal.
“The Birds of War,” “I Like Paddy’s Pub,” “Dayman,” “The Nightman Cometh.” For the uninitiated, these are just random words. Fans of the show know these musical numbers as pieces of strange, strange genius. Get on YouTube and check it all out for yourself.
For this point I’m just going to list some of the best lines completely out of context that showcase the show’s crass intelligence:
“Any amount of cheese before a date is too much cheese.”
“Here’s a confession: I’m in love with a man. What? I’m in love with a man. A man called God. Does that make me gay? Am I gay for God? You betcha!”
“Do not plug an open wound with trash.”
“Hi. Um, I’m a recovering crackhead. This is my retarded sister that I take care of. I’d like some welfare please.”
“I’m not fat. I’m cultivating mass.”
Words to live by.
In fact, there’s the exact damn opposite. The best example? Rickety Cricket. He goes from a successful and healthy priest to absolute rock bottom on the streets of Philadelphia with half his face burned off. Every character on the show gets more selfish, more disgusting and more pathetic over time and it’s just great.
Just read some of the episode titles. “The Gang Gets Racist,” “Underage Drinking: A National Concern,” “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis,” “Charlie’s Mom Has Cancer,” “Who Pooped the Bed?” Compelling stuff.
“Kitten mittons.” Rum ham. Incest. Golden gods. Fat Mac. The gruesome twosome. Motown. Green man. The D.E.N.N.I.S. system. Paint huffing. Dumpster sex. Dance offs. Rats. Trolls. Wine in a can. Karate. Hitler paintings. Ghouls. Pepe Silvia.
If I haven’t demonstrated the value of the show by now, then you don’t deserve it. The show is a veritable mecca for anyone who’s sordid, depraved, cynical, eccentric, disgusting, or just wishes they were. I’ll let you decide which camp you fall into.
I left my job last month.
I was surrounded by talented, wonderful people and don’t regret my time there (so much so that I’m now freelancing with them), but ultimately, it just wasn’t the right role for me.
So here I am, on the job hunt. And between a handful of freelance projects to keep me ticking along, I’m writing applications, pursuing and creating opportunities and networking my ass off. It’s hard.
We’ve all been a job hunter at some point in our lives. And whilst every job hunt is unique, the one recurring theme is that everyone hates it.
The recurring theme of any job hunt is that everyone hates it.
But does it always have to be so tedious?
Of course, there are always serious factors that come with job hunting and possible unemployment, be it having dependants, making rent, paying bills – serious responsibilities to rightly prioritise.
But when you’re in a situation where these aren’t desperate concerns (immediately anyway) – why is it that the job hunt is still as depressing as ever?
It’s a challenge to get motivated, stay positive and feel like you’ve been productive, even when you’ve spent all day and evening actively working. And I know I’m not alone in these thoughts. Whilst I’m not naive enough to believe a mere change in mindset will make all these issues disappear, I’ve gone full Pollyanna and thought about the 3 reasons I – and any others in a similar position – should make the most of this situation.
Whether it’s an interview, a phone call, a run in the park or lunch with a friend; I don’t have to plan it around my work day. So tomorrow I’ve planned a museum crawl around London, and I’ll job hunt in the evening. Because I CAN!
What do you really want from a new job? What do you really not want? What do you want to do with the rest of your life? You know, small stuff like that. If you’re always operating at a million miles an hour there’s no time to think. Until now.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. This is one of the hardest things as a job hunter – giving yourself time off. But it’s necessary. Fresh air, friends and food make a day decidedly better, and they’ll without doubt improve any applications.
I won’t lie and say that the job hunt is a walk in the park. Except possibly tomorrow when I do plan to walk in the park. But it doesn’t have to be a complete misery. Yes you’ll feel vulnerable, frustrated and sometimes just plain low. But it’s also so rare to have the flexibility, time and mental space that come with this situation.
Will it ever be fun? Probably not. But I intend on making it as fun as it can damn well be.
TEDx Brighton was inspiring. I try to avoid this word as it’s overused and dramatic but it’s the only word that applies here.
There were laughs (host Mark Dolan was on excellent form), intensity, ideas, sadness and a whole lot of surprises. An epic event with some epic speakers, and messages that will stick with me for some time to come. Here are some highlights from three of my favourites:
Jake, who describes himself somewhat harshly as a “suicidal waster” who found purpose, spoke about his ongoing battle with depression and the great healers of Nature and movement.
Just a year and a half ago, he seriously considered ending it all, phoning his mum one last time to hear her voice before he went.
Everyone in the Brighton Dome seemed to be holding their collective breath as Jake explained the thoughts and feelings that were going through his mind. His simple but eloquent description of these dark thought processes and their potential effects was both upsetting and humbling.
“Depression club’s biggest trick is convincing members that they’re the only one.”
But with the help of his Mum, his GP and finding his purpose, Jake pulled it back from the brink. He was very clear to say that depression isn’t ever done, it’s not something you can complete. It’s a constant battle. But in articulating this battle and communicating it with others, it saps its power. A modest man, Jake found his purpose in the modest act of walking.
His goal is simple – to walk his way to recovery. “My plan is to walk around Great Britain, covering every National Park in order to show people that there is beauty nearby.” Documenting his experiences with depression as he goes – I don’t know if I can think of a more noble vocation.
It’s unbelievable to think that a year and a half ago he was in the darkest stage of his life and now he’s fighting it head on, completed the London Marathon with the show ‘Mind Over Marathon’ and is getting more and more people behind his cause. Myself included.
“The feeling I have right now, I don’t want to die, I want to live forever.”
These were the words Jake said to himself on completing the marathon and the words he used to end his talk. A powerful, simple message on how engaging with the outdoors and physical health can help your mental health and then some. I’m looking forward to following his adventure.
(Try saying that after a few beers). Tim’s missions is to “bring on the Ping Pong Revolution”. On the face of it, this might sound like a slightly obscure life mission. Until you see exactly what this means.
Tim’s talk was decidedly different to the rest because he didn’t just wax lyrical about the great work that was being done, he showed it.
Sharing the stage with him for the majority of his talk were some of the people who play at Brighton Table Tennis Club. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more diverse bunch. But the one thing they have in common? Ping pong. Watching them laugh and play together said it all. Across age, race, gender, background, class. It’s just not important in ping pong.
It’s a social revolution that’s beautifully simple and incredible to see in action. (Plus props have to go to Harry Fairchild for being a total legend).
I was skeptical about this talk. From the start the idea that we needed more positive news seemed almost crass from the founder of Spark News. When terrible things are happening the world over every day is that really what we need?
“Sharing positive stories can change the world for good.”
But as I listened on, Christian made a clear distinction. His message was not to share more and more “fluff” that’s unimportant. But by sharing success stories around the world centred on solutions, we can inspire more answers to difficult problems.
To illustrate his point, he showed a video of blind women, who are being brought in to perform breast exams on people who might have a tumour. The idea to use disabled people in need of work to use their heightened sense of touch to help find medical problems before it’s too late is absolute genius. This news story isn’t fluff, but it’s positive, and it shows an innovative solution to multiple societal challenges. By showing more of these kinds of stories, we’ll inspire more ideas like this. Christian, you converted me.
The common thing that all these three talks shared was that they were simple. The messages and ideas they put forward might not be easy to implement by any means, but they are simple and elegant in their logic. Utopia doesn’t need to be a distant dream.
TEDx Brighton, you did not disappoint. I have much to think upon…
What does it mean to be “creative”? To be an “ideas person”? Or to be “artistic”? They’re just words aren’t they. Devoid of any real meaning.
“Creativity isn’t a particular discipline. It’s the quality of originality and unexpectedness that you bring to whatever you do.” – Dave Trott in Creative Mischief
“There is no algorithm that can tell us where it will come from and when it will hit”. – Tim Brown in Change by Design
“To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas”. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry
And it’s got me thinking about my favourite examples of wordplay…
“One sausage short of a mixed grill”
“The hamster’s dead but the wheel is still turning”
“One sandwich short of a picnic”
“The lift doesn’t go to the top floor”
“One word short of a sentence”
“The Romance of Leprosy”
“Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice”
“Erections on Allotments”
“The Art of Faking Exhibition Poultry”
“Cooking with Poo”
“Handbook for the Limbless”
Definitely some titles to add to your read-on-the-tube-to-make-Londoners-uncomfortable list.
I’d pay a lot of money to know which of these were deliberate and which were only accidentally amusing.
“Headmistress Unveils Bust”“Spider Found in Toilet. Woman Relieved”“Leopard Spotted In Park”“Man At Death’s Door-Doctors Pull Him Through”
I’m embarrassed to say that before reading Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, I didn’t exactly know what logotherapy was. I picked up Frankl’s book because it kept being referenced as an important text in Holocaust Literature circles, a genre that holds a seemingly endless fascination for me.
But I was surprised by just how much logotherapy resonated. As far as psycho-philosophical schools of thought go, I’ve gotta say that it has really struck a chord.
Logos is a Greek word that literally means “meaning”. According to Frankl, its founder, logotherapy “focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning.”
“This striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”
It’s a form of existential analysis and is widely considered the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, following Freud and Adler, respectively. Logotherapy is, in Frankl’s words, about “a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centred, as well as in contrast to the will to power on which Adlerian pschology, using the term “striving for superiority” is focused.”
I’m no psychologist or philosopher, but as far as I understand it, everything Frankl puts forward about this school of thought comes back to this idea of meaning. What is Man’s meaning? What is each individual person’s meaning? How do you pursue it? Can you pursue it? Does meaning change over time? Should it? All of these questions are encompassed in Frankl’s philosophy. Not necessarily answered, but certainly explored.
“Man’s Search for Meaning” details Frankl’s arduous trials through Nazi concentration camps, the basics of logotherapy, and the astonishing potential that the mind has through suffering. He regularly refers back to Nietzsche’s famous phrase:
“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
It’s all well and good talking about lofty ideals and schools of therapy, but how does any of this relate to getting through day-to-day life? Frankl offers this nugget of wisdom that sticks in my mind:
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
I find this a useful mantra to think about when I’m bored or annoyed, stressed or indecisive. (And for anyone who has seen Richard Curtis’ “About Time”, this idea is basically the conclusion to the entire film!) Living as if it’s already a second chance helps me appreciate and be grateful, as well as notice the urgency of time.
Everyone seems to be scared of ageing. Be it going grey, losing dignity or some other cruel conclusion to life’s struggles. But Frankl posits instead that old people are in fact to be envied:
“There is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past – the potentialities they have actualised, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realised – and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.”
“Realities in the past”, “potentialities they have actualised”, “meanings they have fulfilled”; these words are beautiful. Whatever difficulties abound in old age, the assets of the past cannot be undone. I aim to remember this when I’m grey and old.
Many of us – myself included – are so concerned with chasing happiness that being happy itself becomes elusive and impossible. Like when you’re desperate to sleep and are obsessing over it, but only do so once you stop trying. Frankl stresses the importance of reconfiguring these thought processes:
“By declaring that man is responsible and must actualise the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. […] Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfil or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualises himself. What is called self-actualisation is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it.”
Striving for a better life isn’t a bad thing, but being present, being “in the moment” and experiencing are just as important. I don’t know if I’ll ever know my meaning to life, but I do know that searching for it will get me nowhere. Giving and serving, forgetting myself – these are the aims I want to focus on from now on.
As you might have guessed, this book has had quite the effect on me, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered ‘what it’s all about’ (so, in essence, everyone).
Black Mirror is just awesome television. With sharp scripts, a killer cast (Don Draper, anyone?) and impressive genre-switching, it’s a definite Brit favourite. But I would argue that it’s the conceptual idea for each episode, above all else, that gives the show its edge. Offering an illuminating (and often terrifying) insight into humanity’s not-so-distant future, we watch Black Mirror to explore the intriguingly twisted worlds of Charlie Brooker’s creation.
Being of a similarly twisted ilk, I’ve come up with four concepts that I’d like to see on the next season:
Every child gets the same education with a hologram teacher leading all classes.
This episode follows a typical British family, with two children who are subject to the modern hologram teaching method. The younger child has known nothing other than this style of learning, whilst the older sibling can remember being taught by humans. The government and school boards are encouraged by the fair and systematic rolling out of education standards across the board, but certain groups of adults and children alike are unhappy with the lack of creativity and human touch involved.
Lack of creativity and human touch
Things escalate when the award-winning education system enters the home, and the hologram tutor begins acting as a quasi-mother figure, even reading the children bedtime stories. The younger child becomes attached to the parental figure, but the older child joins a rebel group at school, which involves underground classes and rebellion against the modern education system.
No one ever goes on holiday. Vacations are implanted virtually into a person’s brain, and while feeling like a month or a week, trips only last a few minutes.
The story follows a small group of “Holiday Makers,” whose job is to create the immersive, virtual experiences that people pay for. They have the rather exciting job of travelling to cool places and then using their experiences to design trips for holiday-goers. Employers offer employees bonuses in the form of virtual trips, with office workers leaving the room for five minutes, then returning with souvenirs for all and a sunburn.
Vacations are implanted virtually into a person’s brain
This world is presented as idyllic, until one of the Holiday Makers discovers that none of these places they travel to are actually real. The world as we know it is a deserted wasteland, with experience existing solely in the imagination or from memories of places past.
Every dream and every nightmare you’ve ever had are recorded. Throughout life, you are unknowingly part of a scoring system, the results of which help a jury dictate where you deserve to go after death.
The story begins with the SparkNotes version of a man’s life — the ups and downs, important relationships, key moments, etc. Then in his middle age, he abruptly dies in a sudden car accident and wakes up in a place akin to purgatory. This purgatory has the clinical feel of a dentist’s waiting room, and a big door leading to the “Boardroom.” The man (let’s call him John), walks through the door where there are 12 juror-types sitting around a big table. They explain to him the scoring system that has followed him his entire life, and that with his score they cannot determine whether he deserves Paradise or Perdition (the names on two clearly visible doors in the Boardroom).
Every dream and every nightmare you’ve ever had are recorded
So to decide where he belongs, John must prove to the 12 jurors where he deserves to go. John doesn’t know what’s happening, so the Jury Foreman gives him a taste of his potential future at stake by allowing him five minutes in Paradise then Perdition. Seeing the place of his dreams and then the place of his nightmares (quite literally), John is keen to make it to Paradise. The jurors then put John through his paces in a series of life situations to see the actions he takes and how he reacts. Seeing his score drop and rise from each test, John is unbelievably stressed. It’s the trial of a person’s life, with average members of society allowed to decide the fate of a dead man. Society plays God in the highest stakes version of an assessment centre that could ever exist.
Everything we own and experience we have are downloaded. The higher the income, the more you can download, but if you can’t afford the payments then parts of your life are repossessed.
A young couple are shown around a small but brilliantly decked-out house by an over-enthusiastic estate agent. It’s actually the bare bones of a house, but in this version of the future, estate agents use augmented reality technology to show what a house could look like, and can even show visitors the vision of them living in a house. Sold by this exotic vision of their future, the couple buy the house. Reality isn’t as romantic, as it takes a lot of hard work to do up, but steadily the couple builds their life together. Working long and hard hours at work, they earn enough tokens to download items for their house, starting from basic necessities like food on the table, to cabinets and square feet of lawn.
Everything we own and experience we have are downloaded
A few years later and the couple have children and even download a dog — steadily “upgrading” the place. But to maintain the lifestyle, the couple must work constantly. When one of them gets ill, they have to gradually “downgrade” their house, they fight constantly and times are tough. Success is dictated by material possessions, lifestyle and the “smart” home. As their income decreases, their social standing drops and everything steadily caves in. Things hit an all-time low when the dog is repossessed and they are reduced to the absolute basics of living. But rock bottom brings the realisation that they can be more self-sufficient. Instead of downloading firewood for warmth, they learn to chop it. Instead of downloading dinner, they grow vegetables and learn to cook themselves. Ultimately, losing everything upgrades their family life.
I can’t seem to get Black Mirror off my mind. So please, for the love of God, comment your episode ideas below so that I can have someone to talk to about it.
The best people in life are nosey. People watching is a common hobby, shared by everyone from the resolute novel writer in the coffee shop to the bleary-eyed commuter on the tube. And with the meteoric popularity of movements like Humans Of New York or the Metro’s ‘60 Seconds With X’ series; hearing peoples’ stories clearly still fascinates us. What is that lady thinking? Where did she get that obscure hat? Why is that man frowning like that? Are those two people a couple or just friends? What does that person dream of at night?
I consider such questions, like countless others, over a packed lunch in my local park. It is intriguing to think about another person’s thoughts, emotions and actions. We are insatiably curious about those around us, and public spaces make the perfect spots for a bit of people watching. But recently I’ve begun to think about my local park a bit differently. As more than just the backdrop to London’s assorted players.
A good friend of mine recently qualified as a personal trainer and needed experience, so I grudgingly agreed to be one of her first clients. Whilst me gurning and sweating it out in the local park is hardly newsworthy (though each to their own), to distract myself from planking and lunging as part of our weekly sessions, I started to really notice my surroundings.
No longer were the benches objects for sitting, the yellowed central scrub of grass a place to relax, or the bordering trees attractive shade-givers. The space had transformed into a place of physical significance. The forefront feeling being pain. The benches are for hellish press-ups, the central scrub for timed run-sprints, and the trees act as check points from one ache to the next. I know every inch of this space. And since that first gruelling session, I’ve averted my focus from the people in space, to how a person uses space.
One evening I see a frantic man directing his two disenfranchised actors, using my press-up bench as their deathbed. On another, a group of dancers take turns using the scrub as their podium. The trees one day become pillars, draped haphazardly with bunting to celebrate a child’s birthday.
Intrigued by this new method of observance, I’ve taken to thinking about space as a fluid organism that can bend to human will. My days of looking for the nearest tube have been swapped for wandering without plan and deliberately getting lost. As many drunken travellers have (perhaps regrettably) had ink-emblazoned on their skin: “Not all those who wander are lost”. A clichéd mantra to follow? Yes. But my writing is better and I feel better.
All the fellow nosey, curious observers out there, I challenge you to turn your thinking on its head. Take a new route to work. Shake things up. Walk and observe. Like Baudelaire’s strolling flâneur or Will Self’s urban walker, space is designed to be explored, adapted and transmuted by us.
So let’s get walking shall we?
*to be read in hushed voice-over*
And here, we observe the recently hired graduatus, or in the common tongue, ‘graduate’, inspecting their new surroundings. Inquisitive, rosy-cheeked and fresh-faced, this young individual practically oozes relief. Observe his surroundings; fresh pastures, lush vegetation and vibrant flora abound. The graduate is settled, filled with purpose and excitement for days to come. But it was not always like this for our intrepid friend. Oh no. To understand this oft-misunderstood species, we must first travel back to where it all began…
The graduate as we know it came into being after the completion of the universitas magistrorum et scholarium life stage, or ‘university’. A difficult transition for any species to endure, filled with emotional and physical strife, he completes this cycle after adapting to a strict learning curve and mastering significant life challenges. The graduate revels in this achievement, and engages in riotous (and occasionally pagan) social festivities to celebrate.
Upon completion of said stage, the graduate is presented with a unique head piece as part of a traditional societal ritual, signifying dominance and mental prowess. However, it must be noted that some believe this honour diluted as the amount of head pieces adorning the graduate population increases.
Our friend spends a few months in euphoric elation with his fellow graduates, manifested in states varying from hibernation and exploration to inebriation. But, like all that is good on our beautiful earth, everything must come to an end. The graduate must return to the nest, where the promise of sustenance and shelter beckons. Comfort arrives in swathes, swaddling the graduate in warmth and tranquillity.
Though like the setting sun, elation can sour as quickly as it rises. Our friend’s serenity is pierced by rising tensions in the homeland. Pressures mount, claustrophobia takes wing, and boredom ensues.
Desperate to escape this retrogression, and following substantial familial threat, he puts time and energy into finding purpose. Seconds, minutes, hours, days and months pass. The hot sun beats down on the graduate’s neck as he trawls the endless wilderness. Hunting for occupation becomes occupation. Monotony is the only constant, perforated by fleeting bursts of hope. Hard labour becomes the norm, sanitation levels wane and time becomes one infinite day, without respite.
Yet all this hard work does not yield a strong harvest. The graduate’s efforts are rebuffed, ignored or overlooked. A creeping melancholy seeps through all. The hunger to live up to the triumphs of the rest of the pack becomes an intense burden.
As resources dwindle, the only option for the graduate is to bring home the proverbial bacon. The hunter must moonlight as gatherer. Our friend feels beneath this toil and is consumed by fatigue. But the procurement of new resources does help to mollify familial discord.
The hunt for purpose continues with haste. Slowly, more attention is gained. However, a wise elder informs the graduate that purpose can only be found once knowledge is gathered. This perplexes our friend, who does not understand how knowledge can be attained before an occupation is found.
The graduate takes to community circles to vent his growing frustration. Voices demand reasons for our friend’s purposeless existence. And once again, paternal disquiet rears its unsolicited head.
A compromise is found in the form of a local sympathiser, who allows our friend to shadow his daily tasks within the pack. The graduate learns much from this, but receives no reward for his labours.
Instilled with a fresh spurt of determination, however, he applies himself as he never has before. His days become more productive, if occasionally peppered with existential crises and rejection. Like the patient housecat stalking its prey, perseverance and grit triumph. After months of virtual silence, everyone is suddenly interested in the young graduate. Old friends and new crawl from their respective woodworks and offer their support and intellect. Before long, he has several meetings set up to discuss his occupation hunt. The meetings go well.
But the competition is brutally fierce, and rejection once again presides. Every graduate must fend for himself in this fight to win. Friends become rivals, rivals become enemies, and long does the war reign supreme. But our graduate is a warrior. He has not fought this hard for this long to be usurped by someone lacking his skill.
More trawling, more hunting, more meetings with those from lands far and wide. Toil and sweat envelop our fighter. He is determination itself. But soft… what light through yonder cloud breaks?
One meeting leads to another and suddenly he is shaking hands with the leader of the tribe. And in an instant as brief and hauntingly exquisite as the flicker of a butterfly’s wings, our graduate grasps glory in his fated hands. He has found purpose. Victory has never meant this much to another. Tears fall, limbs relax and relief sighs. Our planet is an exquisite land, encompassing life in its most barren of corners. And the graduate, in all his extraordinary, resolute majesty, has found his place in it.