Blog: Dave LeggettHistory lessons

Dave Leggett | 20 June 2006

When indulging in office banter I often find myself cast into the role of old fart with a long memory. It is not a role I am unhappy with, although I think I sometimes cross the line into perceived irrelevancy and I’d rather not be seen as the eccentric/loon in the corner. Fortunately, my younger colleagues are too kind to tell me to shut up.

Just the other day I was holding forth, blueberry muffin in hand, on the pre-electronic Stone Age world of typewriters, typing pools (a quite horrific specialisation of labour concept that I have seen in action in the public sector; think battery farming), carbon copies (there were a few ‘aahs’ when I explained what ‘cc’ as an address option on your e-mail actually meant) and handwritten memos, typed drafts batted tennis-style with annotations for correction between author and secretary/typist. Yes, it was very inefficient compared with just doing it yourself in Word and clicking to send electronically (but where did the hidden army of secretaries and PAs that kept offices running all go to?)

And there were mainframe and ‘mini’ computers in big organisations. Back in the early-1980s, anyone with a computer monitor on their desk was either in IT or someone very important with their own office and the monitor on the desk served as status symbol that was invariably switched off (giving rise to the mystery of what the magic box might actually do).

It has all changed now, of course. And – don’t get me wrong – it has changed for the better.

Indeed, it is very rare these days that I have to resort to sending business stuff in the post and we all take our e-mail very much for granted.

But the paradox is that although real world mail seems to be heavily dominated by junk mail of one sort or another (a devaluing tendency) it can also still be a medium that is perceived as more targeted and more valuable than the more indiscriminate scattergun that is web-based mail. You wouldn’t send someone an invitation to an important social occasion by email; it would be something that you would send in hardcopy form, wanting to convey a sense of personalisation and high value behind it. Not many people would email a wedding invitation, though maybe in ten years’ time that will have changed…

And so it is with invitations to industry events, even though I am the first to tell PRs that I would rather get the invitation by e-mail.

In the post today was something from Rolls Royce inviting me to a drinks reception with CEO Ian Robertson at the London Motor Show which is coming up. It’s a nice looking card and I am already making a mental note of the time and thinking that I will try and get there on the press day. The appearance of the invitation and the fact that it came in the post to me suggests, subliminally at least, that maybe they really do want me, yes, little old me, to be there. How frightfully nice of them (though in reality, I know, my name happens to be on a list). Perceptions matter, I suppose.

Actually, the London Show is shaping up to be a decent event, as far as I can see. It is the last throw of the dice for the British Motor Show perhaps, but there are a few genuine model premieres (eg Opel/Vauxhall Corsa, something from BMW). The organisers appear to be firing on all cylinders and the noises from exhibiting manufacturers sound good.

Changing the subject, I am looking forward to a few cold beers while watching the England vs Sweden World Cup football match in a pub tonight (Sweden will come out and play a little bit, I hope, although they only need a draw, which may suit both teams in the end - it could be a poor game).

I was speaking to a German autos analyst yesterday who noted that the atmosphere in Germany is very, very positive with this World Cup, with the German nation proud to be hosting the tournament (and doing a good job as far as I can see) and a new feeling that post-unification Germany can now be truly confident in international terms, no longer self-consciously carrying underlying baggage of the ‘bad aspects’ of Germany’s history in the last century. Very different, for example, to the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Interesting observation I thought. Economists are already wondering if the football World Cup will give the German economy a little lift this year, which might be good for the German car market.

Moving on....to the subject of the Lexus GS 450h. I came across a reviewer - Andrew Frankel in the Sunday Times - who used a neat analogy to sum up what 'performance hybrid' really means. He pointed out that although it scores better on fuel consumption and CO2 than its main rivals, it's not going to help save the planet any more than ordering a cheeseburger and washing it down with Diet Coke (rather than Fat Coke) will make you thin. I liked that. Lexus can chalk up yet another good review for the car though, on its driveability and electric-motor boosted acceleration. Verdict: 'won't save the planet, will make your day'. 

Caffeine-fuelled morning ramble over.


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