Amazing Air

Just before the close of 2016, I came across a 1969 track by The Lovin’ Spoonful, called Amazing Air. The band came out of the early 1960s “jug folk” music scene in Greenwich Village, New York and had got really successful from about 1965 onwards.

This track is I think absolutely beautiful, and opens their album Revelation: Revolution ’69, their final album. The artwork on the sleeve cover is astonishing – a vivid green beauty of a cover with a naked woman and man running alongside a lion.

If anyone ever wants to get me a present, this vinyl LP will do just fine.

As we stand just a few days before the Trump presidency begins, I figure it’s worth opening all the windows, taking a breath, and playing this, really loud. And remembering we’ll get to the other side of this, together.

Amazing air, beautiful night
Softer than diamonds
Blacker than white

Your children sing
Seeds have been sown
We’re all here together
So let’s all call it home

If we confess that we spend less
With peace of mind and tenderness
Then even if I pass you, in the night
With one last breath of life
Could we still say the words to set us free
And let all men with evil hearts beware

Say a prayer once in a while
Pray for tomorrow or somebody’s child
This gives the life that we possess
Worth everything and tenderness
So cast the rain with us into the sea
Tear down the walls of fear and pride
Let’s build a world with love inside
Where all good men with peaceful hearts believe, believe

We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be
We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be
We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be
We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be
We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be
We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be
We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be
We can be happy now we can be free
We can be anything we wanna be

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Mark Charmer – media biography, October 2016.

This biography has since been updated. You can find my latest media biography in ABOUT, here.

October 2016

About Mark Charmer

Mark Charmer is a British project director, writer and artist. He began his career in 1993, at Apple Computer in the bleak suburbs of Warsaw, Poland. There he was tasked with marketing $750 digital cameras to post-communist citizens just discovering the joys of cheap one-hour film processing. He then worked as a PR agent for tech firms including Apple, Compaq Computer Corporation, Sony Broadcast, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and many others. He has extensive media and corporate contacts in the global information technology industry. From the mid 2000s, he focused on sustainable development through the open source design movement, forming the Movement Design Bureau, a think tank concerned with the convergence of the automotive, urban design and information technology industries. In 2006, he also co-founded Akvo.org, a Netherlands-based open source foundation that he helped grow to become the largest independent provider of transparency and reporting systems to the international development community. More than $2 billion of global aid is today reported or monitored through Akvo platforms in many of the poorest parts of the world, with the support of a team of 70 people in 15 countries. Mark has a Masters degree from Central St Martins College of Art and a degree from Aston Business School.

Today his focus is on interpreting and challenging systems related to the finance, management and accounting of artistic and creative intervention, and addressing the need for greater diversity of political, economic and social sensitivities in the information technology industry. He is working on a number of related projects, including a media fund called PEST, a citizen science project in Flaten, Stockholm, an Internet Of Things art installation, and a financial technology startup called GivingOS.

Mark is available as a writer, networker, speaker and consultant on the emergence of new kinds of open and peer collaboration during the 2016-2019 period. His current research area is the challenges of designing processes that address global society’s current complex mix of decentralised culture and behaviour with the inclination to seek centralised management approaches, platforms and financial models. He splits his time between London and Amsterdam.

Contact:

Mark Charmer (London) +44 (0)7976 960739 / mark@movementdesign.org

http://www.markcharmer.com

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My design principles

In the early summer of 2016, I was interviewed by the Swedish cultural and scientific communications expert Anna Emmelin, about my design principles, and how they are steering my intentions moving forward. If you want to understand how I see the world, and how I want to make it work better, there’s no better thing to listen to. It’s a long interview – it just fits on a C90 cassette actually – but it’s all relevant to my approach.

Over recent months I’ve been working ever more intensely in relationship to these principles, and will now be expanding on them in the ventures and projects I work on.

If you’re interested in being a case where we apply these new approaches, or want to learn more, please get in touch with me.

This interview was conducted in Garnanäs, Sweden. Friday 27th May 2016.

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Nailing what I actually do at work

I had dinner on Monday night with Peter van der Linde, my fellow co-founder of Akvo.org, and former colleague. It’s the first time I’ve seen him for almost a year, and the first time in particular since I left Akvo seven months ago. It’s nice weather in Amsterdam right now and we got to sit in the garden.

I explained that I’ve been trying to work out the central thing that I do in my work – what it is really, not the title I have. Peter knows me pretty well – there’s only a handful of people who know how I work as well as he does. So he’s a pretty good person to test this on.

So last night I explained that I think what I do is drive the conversation in an organisation, to keep things flowing in a creative way, to ensure the whole thing has a sense of direction. And to use all the necessary techniques, such as recording, publishing, maintaining the humour, to make that work.

Peter liked that. Reckoned it was the best description of me yet.

Posted Tuesday 16 August 2016

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On Ibiza, and Success in the 21st Century.

I’m staying right now in a house on Ibiza that I’m very familiar with, which Judy, a close friend and my sort of ethereal great aunt, rents for a couple of weeks each summer. Ibiza is a very beautiful island, so much more peaceful than the image people give it, the one the DJs and concert promoters would have people believe. It’s a land of strangely curved hills, like a moonscape of pine hills, smooth winding roads, and little bays and beaches that you feel belong to just you. But it’s really nice, too, to know that when you want to, you can go to friendly party bars and surreal club nights. And mix with chilled clubbers or frenetic high-heeled drag queens. And experience beautiful sunsets. Along with Amsterdam, which has become a second home for me in recent years, Ibiza’s definitely a cool place to grow old. A definite candidate for the ultimate Charmer goal – god willing. Which is to be a 93 year-old hippy living on a hill, who has learned to shed the worry, and is surrounded by a caring, warm and friendly community.

We stay in the southwest corner, which is dominated by a magical rock called Es Vedra. It was the location for the classic South Pacific movie and also has a reputation for being quite mystic. I definitely have some kind of mystic wiring deep inside, and I most certainly feel the magnetic weirdness of the place when I’m here. It’s no accident that Ibiza drew together those aforementioned hippies before the word hippy was even invented.

On Tuesday night I sat up on the roof by myself, watching the lights of planes flying southward and then turning out beyond the Es Vedra rock, and settling onto the glideslope for the airport. I can sit watching the lights of planes for hours – fireflies in the dark, carrying people on their adventures through the world.

Back in 2010 at this house, I wrote a chapter for a book called The Future We Deserve which was being edited by my good friend and collaborator Vinay Gupta. My chapter was about Success in the 21st Century, and I argued that the existing institutional structures – both corporate and political – were unable to cope with the number of people who want to be successful, and that eventually they would be overrun.

I think this is actually a big part of what’s happening in the world right now, brought into dramatic focus this week with the UK EU referendum result. Political leaders are unable to provide frameworks for individual and community success – they have lost their grasp of public relations, in its truest sense. They can’t handle diversity, without categorising it as multiculturalism. And globalisation – global capitalism – can’t provide local economic and environmental resilience, or dynamic and aspirational local class and social mobility. So populists are encouraging people to fall into the trap of expressing their identity along racial or tribal lines, such a common fall back over the centuries. Or appealing to relatively wealthy middle class conservatives who don’t know where to go now that Thatcherism and Reaganism’s last gasp, the 2008 financial crisis followed by austerity, has finally eaten out the economies of their old communities, while they sit on pensions and house prices that make them feel rich. And in some confused way, nostalgic. And diversity becomes expressed as national groups wanting to force other groups out. It was fine for a while to welcome people in it seems, to convert their bathrooms and staff the cafes and shops. But now they’re tired of outsiders and just want to be left on their own.

It leaves those who have been successful by embracing or seeking diverse experiences and groups – people who in a previous era might have been described affectionately as cosmopolitan – feeling horror that their way of living is being scorned or rejected, rather than aspired to. It also leaves all of us who have either experienced prejudice or built our lives believing tolerance was and will remain the backbone on which a strong society is built feeling we’ve had our future stolen from us.

I think it’s clear that the political class is unable to manage public opinion in the ways it used to, or even judge it. This creates a gigantic opportunity for those with open, creative, welcoming and friendly minds – to energise new definitions of local government, to help expose or explain what’s happening. To give people ways to explain the way they see the world. To create conditions or reflect on the conditions at play, for them to be successful through their ability to interpret and express what they are uniquely equipped to see. I’d like to suggest we’re entering a new era. Now we need a name for it. Something that’s about how the good will out, in the end.

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A Writers’ Week in Sweden – my introduction

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I’ve never been close to anyone who hasn’t wanted me to do my own thing, and make a success of it. The truth is, I just don’t really fit into a template. I resist fitting in a template. At this juncture of my working life, I feel my soul is strong, and I feel I absolutely want to become part of a new era. This is both wonderful and tricky at the same time. Because I have a kind of ambition – a kind of community ambition – that is quite incompatible with the kind of roles I would be expected to play in the world.

None of those roles want me, need me. There are other people who will fill them better than I can. As I said to my friend Alan Parker last week, I’ve never really fitted any roles. The only role I know how to play is Mark Charmer. To which Alan replied, “you do it very well.”

At the heart of my role is a distinctive style – a style that treats everyone as interesting, but not some as more important than others. I’ve been exposed to both hierarchies and networks, and have learned to observe and challenge the former, and nurture and grow the latter at a level which feels manageable. As I learn more about myself, and every month I learn more about myself, it becomes clear that I am programmed to find ways to be unique – I simply can’t accept a future where I’m just another number, another employee, another asset. I am part of a next generation community of people who want the world to be different, to be better. And that’s the trajectory I must follow. The song I must sing. The place I must find. I need to find my place to perform, and I need to decide what to sing.

Over recent years I have learned to become a different kind of manager – one that sees talent in people and encourages them to bring that out. I’m not really interested in forcing things in a particular direction. I like to understand how the tide is flowing and see how to build on that, in ways that make the world better.

Photo: Garnanäs, Sweden. June 2015. Original here. (Mark Charmer)

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A Writers’ Week. Sweden, May 2016

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I’m co-hosting a Writers’ Week with my friend and creative partner Anna Emmelin, at two summer houses on the Swedish coast, late in May.

It’s in a beautiful location that’s very tranquil, while being just 2.5 hours by direct train from Copenhagen, Denmark.

If you’ve met me or follow my work at some level, and would like to come along, please do get in touch. The details are on the invite above.

15/4/16 – Invite updated slightly, with revised final paragraph. Costs now more flexible and in Kronor and pounds, rather than Euros. Previous invite here.

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SOUNDS A BIT HARD.

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“WHAT IS IT THAT YOU DO ANYWAY, KEN?”

This was the question posed (or more accurately shouted) to my dad, by my legendary Auntie Nancy, sometime in the 1990s. His aunt had known him ever since he was born, in 1947, always living around the corner, always around. But until then she’d apparently never wondered what his job was.

“I project manage hospital construction, Nancy,” was his reply. “I work with doctors and nurses to work out what’s needed to look after patients, and then organise to get that built.”

“WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO THAT FOR?” she replied (still shouting).
“SOUNDS A BIT HARD.”

My brother Neil and I rolled around laughing on the floor. Nancy had a way of cutting through all attempts at being serious.

I always carry this exchange with me when I approach work. Because it’s very easy to take work too seriously. To think our place is somehow important, in the grand scheme of things. And while the sense of importance that work plays has increased for many, it’s become harder and harder to get. If Nancy and the rest of my grandparents’ generation had known how complicated it would be to get work in the futuristic society of 2016, to follow their dreams, or just pay their bills, I think they’d be shocked. And if they knew how much pressure future workers would be under, to make everything cheaper, faster, and do it with less security, less stability, I think they’d be really surprised.

Describing 2016, from 1985

In, say, the mid 1980s (I turned 14 in January 1985), I’d have told them that in 2016 I’d work in “computers”. And that by 2016, almost everyone now has a tiny little computer they hold in their hand, that only cost a few hundred pounds. “You heard of that computer company called Apple? Well lots of them are made by them. And you know your microwave oven? The new Samsung one yes? Well they make lots of the rest of these little computers.” I’d say these computers are just touch panels and everything passes through the air to them. If I told them that everyone would use these computers to take pictures and then all their friends could see those pictures right away, if I said that they could book a flight standing in the street, or read or listen to something published right at that moment by a friend of theirs in India (or America). Or read any newspaper in the world, right now. And check the weather forecast. And the bus and train times. And listen to any LP ever published, immediately. Or watch a movie. Or phone people for free and chat for hours (but nobody does that). That if they sat on a train or a bus, they’d see everyone around them tapping into these little computers, all the way to work and back.

And remember, this would all be said in 1985, five years after John Lennon died.

But what if I then said that everyone was pretty miserable. That there’s a total lunatic – a truly offensive little man – campaigning to become US President. That everyone shares jokes about him on these little computers, or rallies behind him. That Britain is about to (maybe) vote to leave the European Union, because people have lost faith in the post-war ethos to come together, and are tired of foreigners migrating here to take their jobs. That brilliant writers and musicians find it almost impossible to make money doing what they’re capable of doing. What if I said that our youngest adult generation – those born between 1980 and 1995 – are now poorer than pensioners, and face dismal prospects in finding work and a nice home they can afford to live in. And the Middle East has a strange mix of slick-rich mega cities and serious poverty, threatened by a really nasty group of people who refuse to live alongside anyone else who is not a religious fanatic – people who could feel pride in watching a friend or family member strap explosives to themselves and then walk into a busy market and blow them, and everyone around them, to pieces.

Maybe in return they’d talk about how they’d learned to adapt during the second world war, their memories of the 1930s depression, their experience of 1950s and 1960s social and technological change. And how all those things along their journey fitted together, made sense, now they look back at it. That it seemed scary at the time, but now it’s just what happened in their lifetime, the 20th century. That in the end they all just played their tiny part, in a picture that was created by everyone in the world.

Back on that day in the 1990s we asked “What did you used to do, Nancy?”.

“IN THE WAR I USED TO CLIMB UP A LADDER. AND PUT NUMBERS ONTO THE TOPS OF THE TAILS OF BOMBERS, IN THE DUNLOP FACTORY IN SPEKE. AND THE FELLAS USED TO WHISTLE UP AT ME, FROM BELOW.”

And then she’d show me a picture from 1970, of her and her husband Alf, holding a stuffed donkey. Waving from the steps of a BAC One Eleven jet at Alicante airport, heading home after two weeks in Benidorm.

Photo: My Auntie Nancy, Nancy Stephens. Front left. Photographer and the rest of the group unknown. This was presumably taken in the late 1920s or 1930s, in Liverpool, England, where she lived throughout her life.

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Company TV – “What’s playing right now on *your* company TV station?

Television is completely in the doldrums. While internet-based TV moves towards an app-oriented world where different services have different exclusive content, plus some of the same stuff on demand, while mainstream television just festers in a sea of tired formulas, Judge Judy rip offs and endless Top Gear. It’s all about control – putting you in the driving seat. Which isn’t what TV was ever about, for its first 40 years. It was about watching a schedule that had been put together by people who had really thought about it, that everyone got to share.

I’m interested in a way forward that for now I’m calling Corporate TV. How do films and television programmes, or even clips from films and television programmes serve the entire business world? Why do people walk into a company lobby and see the tedious generic chatter of CNN or Bloomberg, or BBC News 24? When they could be seeing a scene from a Clint Eastwood movie, that articulates some aspect of the problem-solving culture of the firm. Or an episode of a 1960s cop show, that happens to be the favourite of a quiet lady who works in accounts. Or a few episodes of Knots Landing, much loved by someone’s mum. This is the water cooler for the 21st century.

The challenge right now is how to curate these shows, how it would work inside a firm, and how rights and licensing is organised, how certain people are paid and the various ways that the “TV” station can be viewed – which should include in physical spaces and also streaming from the company website itself. The service can also be a hit in venues – cafes, etc. But the first way I’m envisaging it is through large projection, in lobby spaces.

The concept offers so much potential to draw on the rich depth of cultural content that is currently lost in the “Blockbuster” style navigation assumptions of all the contemporary digital video services. There is so much more to explore – an NGO focused on water, could show great documentary material from India, about its rivers. Not earnest NGO-sponsored TV, but great content produced by reputable broadcasters. It could actually fuel a fresh wave of investment in good quality documentary content, that leaps beyond the existing kinds of really lame corporate videos that get produced to show once, at a company conference, and then forever to fester on websites or in boxes of DVDs. “Have you see last year’s corporate video?”

A big driver? The availability of good, big, low cost video screens now and unprecendented ability now to stream video off the internet. With no real idea what to play on them. And, most of all, an amazing array of content, all out there, hardly used, hardly watched.

First drafted: Torrevieja, Spain. 12.12.2015

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How Burning Man changed me – a discussion with my neighbour Marya.

I sat talking last night with my neighbour Marya, in the garden we share in Amsterdam. It’s approaching two years since I went to Burning Man, and I wanted to ask her how she felt it had changed me, as she’d known me for a few months before I went, and then much more time since. Here’s the interview, which lasts about an hour.

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