Someone from my hometown of Kidderminster left a comment on one of my latest videos last night, questioning whether I liked the area and its people. I mulled it over and thought that it signalled that the time is now right to republish the Flickr blog posts I ran years ago during what I called ‘the Smartphone Era’, a brief time where smartphones were available, but not widespread in certain areas, like my hometown of Kidderminster and when social media was hitting its peak in terms of its quality, thought not in the number of users.
These Flickr posts cover an all too brief and unique period where social media wasn’t quite mainstream and when smartphones were, to many, still somewhat mysterious devices. I would experience hassle in my hometown for using the new tech, though since I had links with a local university at the time, I could compare my hometown’s approach with attitudes in Birmingham, a nearby city, where tech use was openly encouraged and even celebrated. It was quite an interesting comparison to make, showing how lives lived so close in proximity can still be worlds apart.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Kidderminster and its county of Worcestershire are fairly backward and socially conservative areas, something of the UK’s ‘bible belt’, suffering many of the social problems you might expect of such an area. Birmingham, a city, is more progressive and politically aware in outlook – or at least the Birmingham I was exposed to.
What I found in Birmingham was a more relaxed atmosphere, with a population generally more open and friendly. Kidderminster, on the other hand, for reasons I see partly as cultural and material, has a general population which is hostile and suspicious, especially of new things and new people (to them ‘outsiders’). There is a widespread and thorough imposition of numerous restricting norms, imposing limitations not least on creative expression, especially when it includes analysis of the area, making those who try to be creative, in the thinking of one relevant professional, especially vulnerable to adverse reactions.
At the time, I was exploring such norms partly by defamiliarising myself with what had become the everyday over time. I was seeking to get to the heart of what made the place tick, though aware of how hostile people around here can become with such things as analysis and exposure, especially if it looks like word might get ‘out’. To be fair to the people here, they tend to be politically ignorant and unaware, limited by a damaging, blinkered, myopic conservatism, and don’t really know any better, which is why they’re essentially powerless to address issues with themselves and the area. Regardless, though, it was a stressful period for me, at times, but it was also an interesting one, which I hope comes across in the content.
To me, though this doesn’t always come across, it was an attempt to use social media in its best use: to do a job of improving things, somehow, by highlighting what hadn’t been publicly highlighted before. Again, though, in such an area, this approach carries a number of risks.
Which is why, I suppose, there were things that I didn’t mention even back then. It was obvious that the time would soon come when online activity would become more the norm than the exception and that what you could get away with posting openly and freely would become more limited. So, for example, not enough mention of the sadistic little character who ran the social scene at the coffee shop in town, an individual psychiatric services believes fits the bill of a sociopath. There are many other examples where, because I knew this time of openness would be brief, I had to hold back and maybe wisely so.
There were also comments left almost certainly by locals. It’s possible that you have to have experience of such people to know how they operate, trying to corrupt not only their direct audience, but the wider one, and anyone else they can assimilate into their ‘ways’. Specialising in a toxic approach of ‘divide and conquer’, it’s in the water of the place for many of its inhabitants to play people (including unwitting officials) off one another to win at all costs, which is another reason why the mindset of the place, according to one official, hasn’t essentially changed for 500 years – they’re very effective at it. The tragedy is that, as is possibly the case with the comment left last night, the very methods such people use highlight the issues which urgently need to be addressed for the well-being of the locals, with their blind spots to matters of self and place, issues which are yet again left in place – as they no doubt have been for centuries – by people adept at cutting off their nose to spite their face.
In the subsequent years since these posts I’ve developed the sort of education I wish I’d always had, leading to a level of awareness that’s a world away from what was, a breath of fresh air, even though it has the potential to distance me from the bulk of the local population. But, thinking back to the posts, I was already starting on a journey which would develop with the disciplined and sharpened lens a thorough appreciation of theory and research can provide. Linked with having had the experience of seeing the place play out what it was always going to play out (once its key participants got it in their collective mind to do so), you have a powerful and informative combination which may, one day, be of some positive use if not in the specific area, then perhaps somewhere.