Luddites get a bad rap, if you ask me. They understood, all those years ago, that technological advancement would be as detrimental to society as it would be a good thing.
History should have lauded them for their foresight, rather than fobbing them off as mallet-wielding cranks.
Admittedly, the only reason I’m outing myself as a Luddite acolyte is because I’m generally a technological numpty, but too penny-pinching to start gadget-bashing my own belongings.
I’m also fairly certain that my boss would react unfavourably if I reacted to my work desktop’s latest software meltdown by taking a hammer to my keyboard (though boss, if you’re reading – if the office has a tool box, keep it hidden please. One more inexplicable computer crash, and it’s Hammer Time).
The frustrating thing about technological progress, is that every now and again, its application surprises even an Applephobe as myself.
I’m not fussed that the Samsung Galaxy S7 will inevitably be capable of functioning as a robot budgerigar, or that the latest iteration of the iPad will be so ludicrously thin that it features on the front cover of Vogue - the adoption of social media however, especially in Birmingham, does fascinate me.
To date, there have been a number of projects and people that have used social media, especially on a hyperlocal level, to reflect Birmingham’s strengths, quirks and traditions.
However, the appearance of #birminghamsmell last week got me thinking that, as a city, we’ve really got a handle on the potential power of social media.
We collectively use it in a way that’s somehow ambitious yet grounded, conscious of our past and self-deprecating all at the same time. Funny that, considering Birmingham people are ambitious yet grounded, conscious of our past, self-deprecati…oh, I see.
So let’s return to #birminghamsmell, though those that endured it the first time round may wish to demur. Birmingham took to Twitter to share their thoughts on a peculiar stench that pervaded the city air.
Within minutes, #birminghamsmell was trending – unsurprisingly many of the comments were along the lines of ‘it was coming from Coventry’ or ‘Perry Barr smelt worse than usual today’, but it was perversely pleasing to see our city use social media to unite in sniffing out (sorry) what had caused this phenomena.
Interestingly though, although presumably other cities were affected, only Birmingham christened the occasion with a shareable hashtag.
I know it sounds daft, but that makes me kind of proud – we understand how useful social media can be in sharing information, in providing solutions, in building communities and in providing opportunities to make lightly disparaging comments about other towns and cities.
On a more tasteful note, Some Cities announced the launch of its image sharing website with more than 40,000 images of Birmingham.
Through Twitter (and via the website itself), Some Cities has received an astonishing breadth of pictures within the space of five months. It’s an incredible resource and one that presents Birmingham in a brilliant light – not only as evidence of our unheralded passion for (and skill in) photography, but also in our willingness to social media-share images that may have otherwise resided in hard drives, appreciated by only the few.
On Twitter, @brumpic is similarly fascinating resource, posting pictures primarily of Birmingham’s past. @brumpic’s ‘This Is Birmingham’ Twitter feed has an impressive following of almost 12,000 – very impressive for a collection of black and white photos from yesteryear. What this does for the sale of glossy books found in the ‘Local Interest’ section of Waterstones, I dread to think.
What I do know is that @brumpic has made Birmingham’s heritage more accessible than it has ever been previously, something that’s of huge significance.
Younger citizens can easily view how the cityscape has developed through time, and see historic evidence of the industries that have thrived in the Midlands; cynical never-happies like me can readily acknowledge how council planners have, over time, transformed an aesthetically arresting city into the frustrating nearly-there hodge-podge that we have today; I’d even say the likes of @brumpic have encouraged Brummies to generally have a more active interest in our surroundings - the popularity of Birmingham Post’s Hidden Spaces feature late last year is testimony to this.
Birmingham is often said to not crow about what we’re good at, so here’s me crowing – as a city, we’re damned good at social media. Not necessarily making lots of dosh out of it, but in using it effectively as a digital community.
So yes, don’t approach me if my computer is in the midst of installing one of 15 million software updates – I can’t be responsible for any collateral damage.
But, if you’ve become more interested in Birmingham through something you’ve seen on social media, I’d be delighted to receive your tweet (once those flipping updates have gone through).
Keith Gabriel is a Birmingham-based PR account manager