Counting cloud-like sheep

Clouds and Clocks

It’s not nice to be reminded that you are late for work, but when you find out from SUCH an attractive clock, it can inspire you to speed up a little.  This morning I was hoping for a sunny day and a wisp of cotton wool cloud behind Big Ben, but was disappointed.  Still there was a cloud of sorts, so that’s the picture I took, 7 minutes from getting to work on time.

What is more interesting, the clock, or the cloud?

What is more interesting, the clock, or the cloud?










It has been said by various people (Popper, Lehrer… I read it in Brooks), that there is a mistaken tendency to try to understand life as being a little like a clock, when in fact, it is more like a cloud.  If you think in terms of clocks, then human behaviour can be taken apart, examined, put back together and quantified.  It’s like a machine, regular, neat and straightforward (if complex and beautiful).  But perhaps we are more cloudlike… ephemeral, dynamic and opaque. As Brooks says, clouds ‘can best be described through narrative, not numbers’.

As he later explains, Adam Smith wrote two books – The Wealth of Nations, and The Theory of Modern Sentiments. The first is well known – the pin factory and his early economic theory and all that.  The Theory of Modern Sentiments published earlier, was a more sensitive, philosophical work which covered morality, empathy and conscience.  It’s harder to grasp, and is far less celebrated, and yet some believe it is more fundamental.

Market researchers might see how one feels more quantitative – more clock-y, and the other is more cloudy, or qualitative.

And to understand television audiences you need a little of both.  The quantitative side is available from the overnight ratings, and the simple ideas we have about what people say about their TV viewing. (Interestingly, much of this basic information is missed because of prejudice, extrapolating from our own behaviour, and lack of effort to find out).  So, in this mechanistic way it’s about people choosing to watch a programme they like – a simple transaction between a consumer and a product.

Bish bosh.

But it’s not really like that. Or rather, the ‘rating’ might be accurate, but the explanation for how it came about is not.

At the qualitative, cloudy, side you have the curiosities of how we watch TV.  Why do so few people want to watch the +1 channels? Why do people mis-estimate their own behaviour so much? Why do we feel insecure about the choices we make at some times and not at others?  Why do we like to watch particular types of TV in particular ways, at particular times?  Why do programmes work on one day, but not another?  How do we absorb television even if we are doing something else while it’s on?

Mysteries all,… or perhaps not mysteries, but the wonderful poetry of human nature and needs, played out in the TV choices we make, and the way these programmes make us feel.

And the irony is this.  A big part of the mystery behind the success of television, and the tight grip it retains in our lives, is about the power of time.  Perhaps not the clock, which is, after all, merely a method to indicate the passing time so we can co-ordinate our activities, but time nevertheless.  I’m talking about the soft power of the hour of the day, the before and after, the rhythms and routines, the flow and anticipation, the social patterns and other elements that create the temporal context that drives our lives.

On a other note, there was another cracking episode of Pointless today.


Take your pick…


Or clocks?


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