Friday, October 10, 2008

How much expertise do we need?

When a person becomes an adult, they start having to take responsibility of their lives, at least one hopes that they do. In years gone past, the pace of change was not such that taking responsibility related to an ever-changing landscape where innovation and advancement happened on a weekly basis. However, in our modern world, the increasingly globalised markets, along with the advent of the world wide web, has exponentially increased the rate of change and speed of communication. Change and expanding choice have become an ever-present part of society. This brings its own problems.

The large number of options now available, for many things, requires the consumer to do a lot of research and become relatively proficient in evaluating what is on offer. For instance, if a person wants to buy a new washing machine they now have numerous manufacturers to choose from and numerous stores selling washing machines at different prices. They might also feel obliged to consider other factors such as environmental impacts, the type of labour conditions in the factories that make the machines, and whether it is made within the country of purchase. This all takes time.

Other larger purchases may take more time. Deciding which company you are going to have provide various types of insurance is of concern to many, as is the provider of the mortgage on a house, or the type of superannuation fund that is best for them. With the breadth of choice now available this is a complex and time-consuming activity. As all those who have read mortgage contracts and insurance policies know, trying to evaluate what is actually being provided and the potential pitfalls is a challenge in itself when reading one, let alone trying to compare a variety of such documents. If you have the money, then you can get a professional to look at this for you, but then again, which professional to choose?

With a greater emphasis on people providing their own retirement fund, we are now being asked to become proficient in the assessing investments in the Stock Market. Becoming an expert on the financial markets is not something that happens quickly and yet more and more of us are being asked to make decisions on investments and superannuation. The current Stock Market turmoil is taking its toll on many institutional investors and funds, and one can only speculate about what it is doing to self-funded retirees and those who are nearing the time when they are set to retire.

Of course, the experts also tell us that we should review all of our major financial commitments on a yearly basis. Is our house and car insurance still the best? Should we be considering changing our bank or mortgage provider? Is our health insurer as competitive as it should be? Perhaps our car and/or computer is out-of-date and in need of upgrading. Are we getting the best deal on our telecommunications? All these things are changing at a rapid rate and we are all being asked to keep up.

But, in addition to spending all our time delving into these big financial commitments and purchases, there is a need to do even more research. The nutritional value of some of the food we buy at the supermarket is doubtful, so should we take any notice of the non-stop advertising that assaults us on a daily basis? And do we need to know what those numbers relating to additives mean? A trip to the shops becomes a matter of looking closely at the labels to see if there are any dubious additives included, or whether the weight or quantity has been reduced while charging the same price. This lengthens the time needed to get the job done.

I haven’t yet mentioned the environment. We now need to consider our carbon emissions, our water use, whether we should recycle what we consider waste, and the carbon footprint of everything we buy. This is not a bad thing, in fact it is very good to consider these things and act accordingly, but after considering much of the above, it becomes yet one more call upon our time to research what we should be doing.

The modern media and internet are constantly bombarding us with conflicting views about what we should be doing and how we should be doing it, giving us yet more urges to go and do research.

I have only covered choices relating to singles or couples. For families there are numerous additional choices that have to be made.

Why is this so? Perhaps it’s because we lack trust in the professionals now, or maybe it’s because governments are now giving us freedom to make our own decisions. The free market might be to blame, or perhaps it’s our own insecurities that we are somehow not getting ‘the best’, whatever that might be. And there is the potential for people to feel guilty about not having ‘the best’, as if somehow this makes them inferior.

The bottom line is that we are being asked to become experts on areas that are the preserve of those who have spent many years learning to become professionals. And yet, despite this, we are still corralled into feeling obliged to have significant knowledge of these areas. This all takes time. And so much time can be spent on these things that we fail to find enough time for ourselves.

Getting ‘the best’ may, in fact, involve reclaiming time for ourselves rather than spending inordinate amounts of time trying to learn everything about everything. In terms of mod-cons and services, in the long term ‘the best’ cannot be bought anyway, because everything is constantly evolving and changing.

It surely must be time to re-evaluate all of this, and realise that life is something to be enjoyed rather than something to be endured.

First published at 10/10/08

Friday, October 3, 2008

20 Songs to Relax to on a Hot Summer’s Evening

This is a totally self-indulgent list, but I encourage anyone who reads it to take time to listen to these tracks, with a beer in hand, and tell me they aren’t classics. Mind you if you’ve sat through them all on said evening, then your are probably snoozing in an alcohol induced sleep. So in no particular order:-

Big Log (Robert Plant) - This solo effort from the Led Zeppelin frontman captures the mood of solitary reflection and contemplation while on the road. A fine effort.

On the Beach (Chris Rea) – From the guitar master with the gravelly voice. This smooth combination of a catchy beat overlain with keyboards and a relaxing guitar riff runs for almost 7 minutes. It’s well worth the time though.

That’s Entertainment (The Jam) – Paul Weller at his best. This track is a great reflection of urban life in the late 70’s, but also holds true for urban life today in many areas.

Last Train to Heaven (Paul Kelly & the Coloured Girls) – As well as being on the album gossip, this mellow track can also be found on the surfing film Jungle Jetset. Paul Kelly remains a classic Australian musician.

Girls on the Avenue (Richard Clapton) – Perhaps not too well known outside Australia. An ode to girls of negotiable affection.

Maybe Tomorrow (Stereophonics) – Great stuff from these guys. Strikes the balance of melancholy with a simple chord progression.

Walking in the Sunshine (Bad Manners) – The ska boys in rare reflective mood, but intent on drinking red wine. This song has a saxophone ‘riff’ that just resonates and is, in my humble opinion, one of the best uses of the saxophone in ‘pop’.

Long Hot Summer (Style Council) – If this song doesn’t relax you, then nothing will. One of the first Style Council songs, from the summer of 1983.

Slave (James Reyne) – The Australian Crawl lead singer in solo form. A bit of late night classic to wind people down.

Every Kind of People (Robert Palmer) – The late Robert Palmer’s cover of this song from 1978 leaves you feeling laid back and tolerant of the other occupants of this planet of ours.

School (Supertramp) – Classic use of the keyboards and a song that ebbs and flows. May be not their best song, but many people will know the piano hook from the mid-section of this song.

Saturday Night (Cold Chisel) – One of Australia’s finest rock bands. Sadly not well-known outside the antipodes. This is one of many great songs. Good use of recorded sounds from a pub in the intro.

Cars and Girls (Prefab Sprout) – Under-rated and under-played, Prefab Sprout were the master of the melodic pop song. This one will take you on smooth journey.

Take it Easy (The Eagles) – One of the earliest, but one of the best songs from the Eagles. Just under three minutes of country-pop that won’t leave you bored.

La Viguela (Gotan Project) – This combination of French and Argentinean musicians will get you wanting to dance the tango, but you’ll be able to resist this and just enjoy the flow of the music, while imagining latin scenes in far away Buenos Aires.

This Too Will Pass (Rodney Crowell) – Rodney is big in the USA, I believe. I only have two CD’s but this optimistic song stands out as a country-pop classic.

In These Shoes (Kirsty MacColl) – The late Kirsty MacColl shows her sense of humour and latin musical influences on this track, which has been used extensively in advertising.

Summertime (Gerry & the Pacemakers) – What can I say about this. This cover is just silky-smooth even after all these years. Cole Porter would be proud.

Kiss Me (Sixpence None the Richer) – A short-lived band from Texas that produced a classic. I can’t remember the film that this came from, but it’s a great piece of laid-back pop.

Jamming (Bob Marley & the Wailers) – I couldn’t not have some reggae in this list, and who better than Bob Marley could I include. Jamming must be one of the best mainstream reggae tracks of all time.