Tag Archives: car-parks

Another Birthday, Another Batch of Birthday Spam

bday  

It’s that time of year again. The big old 3 0, or however old I am. And the first where I’ve really felt the power of social networks. Not in a good sense, though. Sure, it’s been nice to get some greetings from ‘loose ties’ in my online world who spotted, in one social network or another, that today is my birthday. Thanks, Graham and co. Really.

But all the other stuff? From websites I signed up for and, in a moment of madness, entered my real birthday (tho usually, the wrong year: 1900. That should mess up their stats.) There’s something rather sad about finding yourself getting more email greetings from services you’ve signed up for than from real people. How pathetic is that?

And not just for my own miserable existence. How is it that companies think that folk like me either a) enjoy being wished a happy birthday by some automated computer script, or b) are ready to believe that employees at the company involved sat around and thought “Oo! It’s Jeremy’s birthday today! We should send him something!” Either way I come across as pretty stupid.

Which I’m not necessarily disagreeing with. Hey, I’d rather get birthday spam than nothing at all. And when you get to my age either your friends have long given up on you or think you’re too old to get real birthday cards with little badges stuck on them you can wear. Message to friends and Auntie Mildred: You’re never too old to get cards with badges on. Never.

Of course, social networks aren’t all bad. At least with services like Facebook you can send birthday greetings and be reasonably sure they actually arrive. Which is more than you can say for those e-cards. Those silly email services where you choose the least lame ‘card’ from a very lame selection and whisk it off, feeling you’ve done the best you can for your buddy/spouse/mother. Awful. Thankfully, no-one sends those anymore, knowing that either they’re so lame they were losing friends/spouses/mothers or that most of them wouldn’t get through spam filters.

Anyway, we should be smarter than this by now. I’d love to see social networking tools used better to celebrate birthdays. We all know we don’t actually remember people’s birthdays; we remember to put them into some diary or calendar so it reminds us. Preferably before the day itself. Technology has just made that more efficient. But it’s lame to then just turn what is supposed to be a very personal experience into a generic one by automating birthday greetings. Who (besides me) wants one of those?

Social networking tools should offer users the chance to opt out of receiving birthday greetings, or to receive them only from insanely attractive members of the desired gender, or automate a quick whipround so the birthday person gets a free year’s subscription or a real g-string or something. I don’t want to sound venal, but whoever enjoyed a birthday made up of only greetings cards or their online equivalent? Where, in short, is the loot?

Why can’t, for example, a mall recognize someone with a birthday has entered the building and offer them freebies and piped ‘happy birthday’ music through the tannoy system? Or car-parks offer free parking? Or banks extra credit? If these companies were sincere about wishing us a happy birthday, shouldn’t they put their money where their mouths are?

And, finally, a thought. Why, if I registered my year of birth as 1900 for these services, aren’t the companies either awarding me ‘oldest living customer’ badges, or sending someone round on my birthday to check I’m ok/still alive, or something? If they really cared, wouldn’t they make more of a fuss of their 107 year old customer?

Dancing Queen and the End of Popular Music

The other night, as I lay sweating in my mum’s flat in boiling England in the early hours, a crowd of 20 somethings spilled out of a nearby club. The usual hubbub of indistinct chatter ensued as they prepared to disperse. Then the females (I assume; I couldn’t actually see anything) started singing something together, and, gradually the song they were singing emerged: “Dancing Queen”, by Abba, released as a single in 1976. The lassies, who can’t have been born when it first came out, all knew the words (no big surprise, perhaps, given it’s been covered by 20 other artists and was rereleased by Abba in the early 1990s) and sang it long after I felt the moment had passed and they should all go home.

Apart from keeping me awake, I realised something more important: I was listening to the last hurrah of popular music. And today marks, at least in the UK, the death of this era. That’s because today is the last edition of BBC’s Top Of The Pops, the long-running television show that broadcast (usually mimed) performances of the top selling single artists of the week. Everyone here in the UK is waxing nostalgic about the show, which first went out in 1964, and has been running pretty much every week ever since. But perhaps its greatest significance will be in its demise, as it reflects the end of popular music as a unifying force.

Ironic, really, given that folk like me weren’t allowed to watch ToTP as kids, at least with the sound on. Even as a late teenager my dad would make a point of walking in to the lounge when I was watching it, to mess about with the grate, or the wine cupboard (necessitating a move of the TV) and would make some sarcastic remark about whoever was on — and his entry always seemed to coincide with a particularly outrageous display by Roy Wizzard or Noddy Holder or Gary Glitter (turns out he was right about him, come to think of it). ToTP was a divisive force in our household, but nationally, culturally, it united. In an era when pop music remained fringe — only a couple of radio stations played it, one of them pirate, and there was scant pop music on TV outside ToTP — the program was a Mecca for anyone who wanted to know what was what. We really cared about who was number one; seeing bands and artists play on ToTP was sometimes the only chance we got to put a face to the voice we heard on the radio. And then there were Pan’s People, the dancers who “interpreted” songs to help fill up the show. They, dancing to the Chi-Lites’ “Homely Girl”, were my first glimpse of sensual womanhood and for that alone I’m hugely grateful.

The point about ToTP was that it gave everyone a cultural reference point. Watch ToTP and we knew all we needed to know to bond with friends, chat up those we wanted to chat up and to sing along at parties. We all knew who The Rubettes were, and while we may have hated ‘Sugar Baby Love’ we all knew it was number one, and hearing it on radios as we went on holidays or tried to steal a French kiss or two at a party, provided a cultural anchor that would forever make that the soundtrack of the summer of 1974 (or was it 1975.) The point? ‘Sugar Baby Love’ meant different things to different people, but it meant something. Listen to it now and I am transported back to the smell of hay (yes, those kinds of parties), feel the excitement of flashing lights and the electrifying presence of females through the gloom.

Of course, a lot of people will see the demise of ToTP as a good thing, the victory of the Long Tail of pop music (or whatever we have to call it now, given it’s not really popular any more.) They’ll say that the Big Head of mass commercialisation of popular music, where a few acts get disproportionate air play, promotion and media interest to the detriment of others, was never what people really wanted, and that now, with the Internet fostering better distribution and an increasingly sophisticated medium of recommendation, we can now listen to what we really want to, rather than what big business wants us to.

That’s true. But when are we going to be able to stand in car parks at three o’clock in the morning all drunkenly singing “young and sweet and only 17” because we all know the words? Or commenting on the silly hats that the Rubettes wore, or complaining about the number of appearances of Status Quo? And it’s not just about the Water Cooler culture — where we all stand around discussing last night’s TV, where we all saw the same thing because there was only one thing to watch — but of something else: cultural reference points that provide a shared soundtrack to our lives. Not a reason to keep Top of the Pops, necessarily, but perhaps food for thought about the world we are entering without it.