The cranes mark the sky, their spindly presence both interrupting the otherwise clear vista and signalling the permanent interruptions which they conjure forth.

It takes a long time to plan the use of a crane, so these were certainly ordered and planned before the 24th of June, 2016 - the day which marks a turning point in a (once) great nation. The excuse that racists and xenophobes up and down this strange island (and across the western world, it seems) had been waiting for to unleash all those thoughts and feelings they used to keep to themselves, but could never quite understand why.

They just want their country back, they say. They just want to make sure that everyone is looked out for. They just want to make sure that this tidal wave of change and progress doesn't fuck them over — on this at least they have some sympathy. They just want to do this in the name of everyone, for our own good.  They have always thought these thoughts, even as society cruelly prevented them from articulating them.

Then they found their champion. A woman (if she must be) who wasn't like the others. Who spoke to them. Who said and endorsed things that sounded at least a little bit like all those thoughts they've been thinking but not allowed to say — but never the exact same, always tempered somewhat. A vicar’s daughter sent from heaven to rescue them from the oppressive rule of the people who live in the places they holiday — whose cooking they enjoy, but who they actually find a bit strange.

This woman admired them. She said so openly in stilted, jaunty prose, as she addressed the nation. But they know she's speaking to them. That she's there to take the country back, for them. To hold back the tide of global progress, while ushering in a new era of their global influence. They know this is not contradictory, for they have righteousness on their side and they know that, in the long run, it is the righteous who will triumph. Their idea of their national history determines this.

Other peoples’ idea of history is different. Incompatible. Inferior. They are weak, deferential. They need to be shown their place, violently if needs must, then they will understand truly how good recent events will be. The country has spoken, they say - though whether anyone was listening all that closely is unclear.

And so both sides find themselves (lost). And both sides realise their differences. And both sides define themselves thusly. And both sides argue. And one side will win. And we'll all lose. And the cranes will disappear.

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Facebook is the message

I just found an old email I received from a friend in 2009. It was easily 2000 words, he was telling me about his time in Buenos Aires. My response was at least 700 words, I was explaining to him about our lives back home, and the recent passing of my godfather. He replied, with nuance, understanding, and another 1000-odd words.

Reading it all now, in 2015, it’s hard to not feel a sense of loss — and not just for the passed loved ones. There’s a feeling that one is looking at a behavioural relic. A mode of communication that people have given up on today, as social media has redefined what it means to stay ‘connected’.

It’s amazing the amount of detail that is contained in our discourse. It is a stark reminder of the influence of a medium: that a letter allows so much reflection and contemplation; actual depth. A letter encourages explanation, structure, storytelling. In 2015, it feels like the only time we encounter such things are in professional media and vapid think-pieces (much like this one…). I can’t remember the last time I had an account from a friend in such detail.

On social media everything is instant, reactive, shallow. We observe everyone’s lives, but without connection. Everything is mere entertainment - an intentional, never-ending list of dopamine hits, designed to keep us looking. This is the raison d'être for the companies that are the custodians of these platforms.

Despite Facebook’s glossy advertising campaigns, these companies have no duty-of-care when it comes to the maintenance or the meaningfulness of our relationships. This much is blatantly obvious when they give advertising equal weight to the posts made by friends - with the exact, intended consequence of both commercial and non-commercial postings reflecting each other in style and tone.

When this is combined with aggressive limiting and algorithmic filtering of the content you see, the platform begins to feel more like a strange, voluntary, prison, rather than the friendly, global meeting place its expensive advertising agencies would like to portray it as.

I remember when all this was new. I was at university at the time, with a particular focus on 'internet studies'. We were all so excited about the new global connectedness, marvelling at our ability to stay in touch with our new-found friends, even when we weren’t all in the same locations. It was exhilarating.

The thrill was soon gone though. It eroded slowly as the platforms (particularly Facebook) rolled out their epic bait and switch. What once seemed intimate has now become impersonal. Where before people shared holiday albums, now we share snippets, 3 pictures at most, captured to get the most likes, rather than to meaningfully share our experience with our friends - not that they'll even see the images.

I know all the business reasons that things ended up like this, but I can’t help but feel that it didn’t have to. We all have choices, and, hopefully, much to the chagrin of idealistic, 2005 Mark Zuckerberg, 2010 onwards Mark Zuckerberg made his in favour of commerce instead of people.

I understand the pressure he would be under, but he has always been in the rare position of chairing the board while being CEO. He could have made a different choice about the role of advertising and popularity algorithms on his platform. Looking back at those old emails just shows me how stark the impact of the decisions made by him and his team have been. To me, it emphasises the responsibility that people like us (founders, developers, designers) have to consider the wider impacts of our product decisions on our users' lives.

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Visual Basics

So here we are: four flag designs and a collective, palpable, rising fear of any of them actually becoming our national flag.

Were I still in New Zealand, I would have been more involved on twitter and such, sniping from the sidelines, safely in the echo chamber. I live in London now, however, the exact worst time zone for engaging with NZ in real-time. Given this, resigned bemusement and the occasional cynical facebook post have had to make do, particularly informed by Elle Hunt's brilliant, damning-with-faint-praise coverage from The Guardian’s Sydney office.

Seeing the coverage spread across various, respected international media outlets has been disturbing — whether from John Oliver, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, or any of the other numerous, internationally influential people who have sought to weigh in with bemused mocking at our lame attempt at self-discovery. It’s easy for these people, though, we’re mostly just a curiosity to them. Seen from a distance as a citizen the sheer, reeking, terribleness of the exercise is much more painful.

As such, I feel it is appropriate to classify this whole exercise. Something like “Most Basic as Fuck Thing Done By A Nation State” seems fitting.

John Key, his Government, the flag selection panel and everyone who seriously believes that one of these 4, final designs is a suitable moniker for a proud, independent nation have conclusively demonstrated that New Zealand is proudly aspiring to a level of basicness heretofore thought impossible. We’re talking aspirational, purely concentrated levels of basicness that not even a Block contestants reunion party could hope to achieve.

In what world do these vacuous beings such as our Prime Minister exist where the flag selection panel made sense? This is meant to be his legacy, to define his time as New Zealand’s most important man. He has entrusted it to a few ex-athletes and business people. He has either completely ignored New Zealand’s cultural and artistic legacy, or purposefully demonstrated his government's profound ignorance of it.

We need to fight this creeping tide of basicness. We must say no to the people who are trying to claim that we are all unified by a symbol as bland and nondescript as a white fern on a black background. Other countries have ferns too, FFS.

If we had embraced the rich catalog of material that is right at our fingertips this could have been wonderful. We have a proud artistic history, and in ignoring it the government and their flag panel have pissed all over it. Told all those people, both those who have created it and those who hold it dear, that they don’t matter.

This whole process has turned us into an international laughing stock. If our fellow countrymen vote for one of these flags in the final binding referendum then we will deservedly have earned and confirmed our reputation as a tasteless, basic little nation at the bottom of the world.

Because of the above, I’m now in the position of passionately advocating for people to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote to preserve our crusty, colonial relic.

The basics have ruined our opportunity to come up with a great symbol for ourselves as a smart, interesting nation. Fuck them.

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The beginning of the end

I just my dropped my good friend Felix at the airport, delivereing him to his flight to London. As we were driving out we stopped off at a bank for him to buy some pounds. While I was waiting in the car bFM were playing Bat For Lashes’ beautiful, nostalgic and melancholic song Laura. The version they were playing was from last year’s Laneway Festival and listening to that recording just made all those happy memories come flooding back, carrying with them the stark realisation that our time in Auckland is entering it’s recapitulation.

Close friends will probably read on incredulous that it’s possible for me to feel any sort of emotional attachment to a city which I so openly ridicule and mock. I admit this took me by surprise too, but as much as Auckland is frustrating, the last few years have been fantastic.

When we arrived here we were both on the unemployment benefit. We didn’t really know many people but those we did know proved to be a gateway into a whole cool scene which we immersed ourselves in. We were carefree, work-free and still with savings. These savings rapidly evaporated, but thankfully Alex got a job. I followed, eventually - I’ll be forever greatful to the help I received from the New Zealand Government, it’s just a pity the National Party are doing everything they can to ensure that others can’t receive the same.

Looking back, I’ve acheived a lot more in these 4 short years than I ever thought possible, most surprising of all finding a way to earn money. In a lot of ways the money thing, while being perhaps the most traditionally important factor, doesn’t really impress me or concern me that much. Most important to me is that I feel more sure of myself than I have in a long time. It’s probably a generational thing, but I’m finally working out what I want to do and where I went to spend my time. I’ve got some good projects going at the moment, and I think I’m beginning to understand how I want to divide my time between them, though I must admit, I’m still not fully decided yet - nor do I think I’ll ever be.

One of those is my own music. Just creating this Facebook Page for myself as a musician was terrifying. I haven’t even put anything up there yet. Through a variety of things I’ve done here in Auckland, I finally have the confidence to realease some of my own musical work. I didn’t have that before. Not even close. Sure it’s still terrifying, but I’m going to do it. I’m not sure why I feel more confident doing this now. I do think my songwriting is better than it has ever been, so that could be it, but really, something has changed in me, and the thought of people listening to some of my most vulnerable thoughts no longer terrifies me. If I’m honest, it excites me.

I can’t not mention the work I’ve done in tech. I have a good consulting career now, and have been involved in a few startups as well as running a startup community. I’ve probably done too much. Rowan Simpson would argue that I wasn’t focusing on my startup enough and that’s why I haven’t succeeded. I don’t think he’d be wrong. But I don’t necessarily regeret the work I’ve done keeping The Distiller alive either.

Behind all of this has been Auckland. It truly is a funny place. Massively multicultural, amazing food, infuriating local politics, beautiful city suburbs, depressing sprawl, shitty bars (except ~4), amazing nature stuff (I particularly loved the surfing and mountain biking), annoying public transport, expensive and in the end, long-term unobtainable. It is a city of contradictions. And villages.

I never knew that a city of 1.5 million people can feel claustrophobic, but Auckland manages it. The people who inhabit the cultures and subcultures of the CBD (myself included) are so cut off from the rest of the city that it may as well not exist. I’m even happily in a long-term realationship and I find this annoying, my single friends say it’s awful. Auckland is a city that’s always nearly ‘there’, then the thing that was going to help it gets taken away from it, and they get lumped with some shitty alternative instead (see: commuter rail, stadia). Despite this it’s actually quite a nice place to live.

Alex and I have lived in one of the city’s central suburbs, 3 km from my office with a backyard with fruit trees, a gourmet supermarket around the corner, and some cool bars too. We are 10 min walk to a major shopping and entertainment strip, 30 min walk to the office and there are a number of beautiful parks close by. What Auckland lacks in civic ambition and density, it makes up for in sprawl and comfort. If you have the money it is an incredibly easy city to live in.

Auckland tends to be split between those born and raised here and those who moved - in my experience at least. I’m one who moved here, most of my friends are as well. Most of us came for one/some of the following reasons: it’s warm, our friends were here, it’s the biggest city in NZ, we didn’t want to move to Sydney or Melbourne, a job was here, we didn’t want to deal with accruing interest on our student loans. Very few of us came for Auckland.

This bestows Auckland with an interesting role in New Zealand (for non-Aucklanders): it is our dress rehearsal. We come here to experience living in a ‘big’ city, to get a bit of the hustle and bustle, but mostly as a conditioning exercise before we jump to somewhere ‘better’. It’s been a constant thread the last few years, meeting someone great, only to go to their leaving party in a few months. It’s just the nature of Auckland for a lot of us. We don’t necessarily love it, but we do enjoy living here sometimes.

I think this is where I am. I’m leaving soon, in January. Heading to London because American immigration law is just too damn hard. I want to live where the world happens, not where it filters to. But this time I want to be ready when I go. When I came to Auckland I was actually on the back of starting up my personal music too, only I never really liked the songs I was writing and never released the EP I recorded with my ever-patient father. I’m not making that same mistake this time, I’m sick of watching my friends play great shows and not being able to do the same.

So that’s it for the next few months. I’m going to get my musical side ready, to hit London with at least some proof, even if momentum is lacking. I’m also going to try and enjoy as much of Auckland’s summer as I can before we have to leave our flat. There’s nothing in the world quite like going for a swim after work at Herne Bay Beach, or knocking off work early to go and surf at Muriwai. I’m going to miss that stuff a lot. But that took a few million years to form, I’m sure it’ll be waiting when I get back. Now it’s time to go, to prioritise and look ahead, even if where we’re going is so predictable as to be cliché in New Zealand now.

Here’s to summer.

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Won’t somebody think of the branding?

I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t blog about politics. I’m an avid political train-spotter, declared social-democrat and I spend far too much time on twitter talking about politics, but I wasn’t going to write about it. There’s already so many political blogs that I can’t contribute anything new there.

I do know a thing or two about branding though, both from an academic perspective and from real world experience. I’m not some fancy ad exec, but I’ve spent a few years leading product and biz development efforts, and I believe that having a strong, relateable identity is key to a successful product launch.

In the brand identity stakes (and most others…) Labour just got owned. There’s no denying that Vote Positive didn’t work. I’ll admit that I voted for them, but mostly because David Cunliffe smiles and says hi when I see him on Herne Bay beach - and because the Greens annoyed me with their smug ‘Love NZ’ campaign.

There are loads of people, including Labour’s own MP David Shearer, arguing that the solution to Labour’s electoral woes is to move to the centre, thereby capturing swing voters by offering them Labour-flavoured National. This doesn’t make sense and feels pointlessly reactionary. Moving to the centre feels like a strategy born out of anger and bitterness, rather than any kind of rational response to re-building Labour’s vote (this is articulated better by Morgan Godfrey here).

People get behind things they can believe in, and they can believe in the National party because they didn’t have to work very hard to get there. National’s whole brand this election was centred around keeping things stable, and the electorate bought it. National barely discussed any policy, but that was because they didn’t need to. They used slick advertisements and simple metaphors to sell one of the most bland and boring political brands I’ve ever seen in my short time voting (4 elections now). That they got away with it shows just how terrible all of their competitors were at convincing the public to believe in their brands.

Labour may or may not need to move to the centre, that is a political positioning discussion that is for people with more experience than I to hash out. That’s only part of it though. What Labour REALLY need to do is to look at the competitive landscape and go where there’s a gap. I can assure them that bland, boring stability is occupied.

Now, I don’t talk about this to try and minimise the fact that Labour need to sort their shit interally. They’re currently a joke and MPs like David Shearer and Phil Goff going on Morning Report and publicly dissecting their loss doesn’t inspire confidence. Danyl Mclauchlan put it succintly with his ‘Mclauchlan’s Hierarchy of Political Needs’. Labour desperately need to stop being incompetent, but that’s a given so I won’t dwell there.

Assuming they do get their house in order, they then need to find their own space and own it. They cannot own what National already does, so they need to go somewhere else. I personally think this is a good thing. Who really lusts after Dell? We all want Apple (or some of us Samsung I guess), but we only place our trust and dollars there because we believe that they can deliver on it. Once Labour get to that point of competence they need to establish an aspirational brand that New Zealanders can get behind (which New Zealanders is up to the party).

National have actually done them a favour in choosing the easy, stable path: they’ve left open a massive flank. National could’ve gone with a more visionary brand, but they didn’t. They probably still would’ve won, but they also would’ve had more of a story to tell for the future. That they didn’t even bother shows just how strong their internal polling showed their support was. This is a massive opportunity for Labour, but it’s risky because its effectiveness is all in the execution.

They’re going to need coherent messaging from their entire caucus, which seems like an impossible task at present; a strong , likeable leader who people believe when they tell them the message; good, accurate data that allows them to work out the difference between people coming round to the message slowly and outright rejecting it. They’re going to need to set this all up in 6 months.

I honestly don’t know if they can do it, but I hope they can. New Zealand needs a strong centre-left block and they need their politicans to actually articulate their visions for the country. That National currently don’t have to is terrible for New Zealand, but it’s an opportunity for the Labour party. They should seize it, hopefully without fucking it up.

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Who cares? Who cares what the future brings?

I've just come home (at the time of the first draft anyway) from watching the incredible 20,000 Days on Earth. I've been a Nick Cave fan for years, so whether or not I would enjoy the film was never in doubt. I even travelled to Sydney in February of last year to see him and it was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. The combination of his brilliant catalogue, that band, his showmanship, and a deep, personal connection with Sydney and particularly her Opera House lead to a jubilant and emotional experience that I don't think I'll ever experience again. But that's not what this piece is about.

The thing that really struck me about 20,000 Days on Earth was Cave's dedication to nurturing his genius. I was both full of admiration and struck by an intense jealousy that he has been able to devote his life to this craft. It made me think hard about my current position. About the nature of my being, even, which is quite an achievement for an 88 minute biopic.

Watching Cave go through his 20,000th day on Earth one is forced to contemplate what one's own 54th year may look like: where you'll be, who you'll be with, what you'll be doing, what you'll be known for. It made me uneasy I must say - though I appreciate that it finally gave me an emotion strong enough to motivate me to write after my last piece, the story of Popin.

At my core I'm a perfectionist. I want, nay, expect to be excellent at everything, and this is only made worse by my tendency to not self-promote - which butts up nicely with an intense desire for success and recognition. There's a glaring issue with all this: I'm not excellent at everything, far from it normally (don't worry, I'm emotionally stable and this isn't a cry for help, merely a clumsy attempt at an illustrative example). I'm a relatively quick swimmer, but I never made the times I wanted. I'm a pretty good musician and songwriter, but I'm still looking for the magic. I'm a pretty good developer, but I'm far from the best. I've got some good skills and experience around starting businesses, but mine never seem to work. I've got a pretty good life, but it doesn't fit the idealised view of what I really (think I) want.

My point above is not to list some skills I have, but to express that I live my life bouncing between disciplines; throwing myself headlong into something only to sniff the possibility of a better life somewhere else, shifting course and throwing my weight behind that. If nothing else I seem to have an aptitude for the adjustment, but I know this constant sense of inadequacy and unfulfillment is always there, always encouraging me to try the next thing because maybe that time it'll be easier. Maybe then I'll get that win that I crave, that elusive win that appears to drive me.

The thing is, I don't actually think it's just me. In fact I feel it could be generational, though I have no data to prove it and haven't had much luck coming up with any. In my work with The Distiller and the broader startup community I see a lot of people who are quite similar to me. People who just want success, and who aren't particularly concerned about what it looks like, so long as it's theirs. This desire for success is hardly specific to a generation, but it seems that my generation (I'm 27, you can work backwards from there) is predisposed to being constantly unhappy with their current situation, at least that's what it feels like. In my narrow bubble of the world most of us were brought up with a lot, and I think we find it quite hard to reconcile how we're ever going to achieve a life that was as good as the one we were raised within, particularly while doing 'what we love'. Under constant time pressure, automation, scaling house prices, globalisation etc., the concept of having a comfortable middle class life feels quite distant, so I think we've all told ourselves that we're OK with sacrificing that particular dream, so long as we can travel and party. I know I've told myself that.

It feels like, as the old pathways have disappeared, we're all being forced into taking more risks with our lives, careers and livelihoods, risks which the generations before us haven't had to encounter, while all the while dreaming of being able to de-risk as soon as something works. It all raises a question...

What if something we do actually works? What if I luck onto that hit song, that killer startup, that swimming...hah no that one's definitely not happening.

I don't really know what happens then, but I don't think it's in my nature to actually be happy with it. I'd likely be looking to the next thing, already dissatisfied with the last one as my threshold shifts and my self adjusts. That's what we've been conditioned and told to do, after all. I feel like my entire education and upbrining was always oriented around looking after oneself and making sure that you got yours. This isn't a sleight to my parents as they did their best to raise me as conscientious and community minded, but I think all of us post-rogernomes have been fucked up a bit, in a way that older generations haven't.

We post-rogernomes were born into a country freshly unshackled and opened to a whole new, consumer world. We don't know anything else and things that before Roger seemed self evident, just aren't for us. Where older (than us) people become selfish dicks because their circumstances encourage such behaviour, we don't have a choice. We were raised this way.

I don't really know what to say now. I don't have any snappy conclusions or tips. This isn't an instructive blog post with an easy to digest morsel hidden at the end. I hope that others have seen something in this though. I know I'm not alone in such apprehensions and motivations, but I feel like few people talk openly about this. I guess that's because it's hard to admit that you're afraid, or that you'd really rather be doing something else. I think it's also embarrassing. There's nothing worse than trying to put on this facade of success and self-starting, to admit that there's very little behind it.

At the end of Cave's 20,000th day on earth he goes home, sits on the couch and watches Scarface with his kids. It's scripted, sure, but I bet to your average 20-something, stuck in a shared house in an overpriced city that they will probably never be able to afford to settle in, it strikes close to home and hurts, just a little bit.

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