The glasses menagerie
Good news stories are a little thin on the ground just now so when one comes along it's only right to give it a little attention. If you follow the retail press, or indeed if you get this magazine's daily retail news feed, you will have heard about a certain innovation at high street opticians Specsavers - the 'digital mirror'. At this precise moment you might be feeling a little underwhelmed. I did too when first I read the press release. But then I tried it and discovered a true technological gem. It is brilliant fun. Whether or not it will actually be a catalyst for increased sales of glasses I don't know - it certainly deserves to for the amount of laughter it can provide.
For the uninitiated let me explain. The digital mirror is a nifty little system that enables you to try on pairs of glasses without actually entering a Specsavers store. Instead you just upload a picture of yourself to their site and click one of hundreds of different frames and hey presto they appear in position on your photo. Genius - particularly as you can save the picture with your chosen frames each time so you can browse and compare styles at your leisure. The picture actually lists the designer and model too making ordering them a piece of proverbial.
While this is all very clever, my delight in the system doesn't derive from appreciation of innovative technology...it stems from being able to put designer specs on a West Highland Terrier. I'm no expert but to me the Westy's look only really worked with a thicker, brighter frame. Anything else was lost in all that hair.
I wonder whether Specsavers can have grasped the full comic potential of their digital mirror? The infantile fun of putting glasses on subjects animal, vegetable and mineral is way more addictive than the time-sapping irritant that is Facebook. Before I had been able to tear myself away I had positioned, rotated then save pairs of glasses on a menagerie of creatures (cats and dogs look particularly striking, whereas goats look sinister and Frisian cows look curiously like news readers). Thereafter I decorated my best mate in a natty pair of pink-framed numbers that I know he'd just love and put some steel-rims on a comedically misshapen potato. I would still be there now trying out different images and style variations if I didn't have to work for a living. Yes, it is a juvenile waste of time...but in the best possible way.
What's more, if sufficient numbers of people have a go with the digital mirror, these animal antics are the thin end of what could be a substantial wedge. This has real potential to develop into an effective, albeit entirely accidental, viral marketing campaign as users worldwide try to out-do each other for the silliness of the bespectacled subject. The global appetite for idiocy, particularly if it involves animals, is voracious - just look at the inexplicable popularity of the lolcat phenomenon [if you are among the few not to have had this invade your consciousness, the websites www.icanhascheezburger.com or indeed www.lolcats.com will explain].
Of course, while neither encouraging, endorsing nor condoning such behaviour in any way, it is also probably only a matter of time before bespectacled images of rather less savoury items or appendages are flying around in cyberspace - despite Specsavers' clear warnings against such actions. The odd thing is that, whether the digital mirror is used try on and buy new glasses or to decorate pictures of Downtown Lester Brown and his hairy companions, either way it is ultimately going to be good news for the company's profile - and rightly so for such an imaginative, practical and entertaining use of information technology.
Of course not everybody harnesses the enormous communicative power afforded by the internet in such a constructive manner.
Some people, British Prime Ministers for example, wield said power with staggering ill-advisedness. Gordon Brown's toe-curling forays onto YouTube were little short of an international embarrassment, shaming all who reside in our once great land. They showed as much nuance and consideration as you might expect of a six year old who has been given the keys to his Dad's machine gun cupboard. Clearly someone in the Labour Party believed that posting the broadcasts on YouTube would automatically lend the Prime Minister's words some relevance to the younger generation. It didn't. It was car crash TV.
It was more like watching some ageing uncle at a wedding showing he was still down with da kidz by flirting with girls half his age and banging on about his wild youth. You could scarcely have designed a more effective means to strip away a statesman's last lingering shreds of dignity. I didn't think it possible that the PM could ever project less gravitas than the Eton Trifle David Cameron but in this episode he managed it.
And while we're on the subject, am I the only one who thinks having 'Number10.gov.uk' embossed on the lecterns at press conferences is simultaneously cheesy, gimicky and looks like we just discovered internet technology (an impression reinforced by the YouTube debacle)? It's all rather cheap and unimpressive.
Mr Brown is clearly the boss (and must therefore carry the can) but I do find myself wondering if there has ever been a first minister who has been so poorly advised as he is? You have to assume that those individuals providing counsel to the PM have some kind of expertise in politics, health, media, education, economics and so on but there is very little evidence of it. Forget actually solving some of the problems with which the country is currently faced, right now I would settle for a government that seemed vaguely professional and worthy of our trust. But while I am waiting for that, I'm off to put some varifocals on a rhinoceros.
If you'd like to comment on any of Jack's article or share rant about something that irritates you, email firstname.lastname@example.org. It might tempt him out of the cupboard, and maybe he'll write about what annoys you!