Musings from Day 1 at the Monocle Quality of Life Conference, Madrid

Hello friends,

It is with great joy and much enthusiasm that we share with you some thoughts from an incredible first day in Madrid at the Monocle Quality of Life conference. For those of you who are not familiar with this conference - we suggest you put it on your radar, muy pronto!

From artisanal brands reviving the regions, to media outlets thriving in challenging environments, and design and architecture that lifts our eyes (and our hearts) from the digital to the real, read on for selected highlights shared on day one.

The era of "infobesity"
"We are living in an era of infobesity, and you have no privacy, so you might as well get over it." Or so thinks Julia Hobsbawm, Social Health and simplicity advocate.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Our privacy is worth defending and there's still time to get it right. Although many conversations around data privacy tend to the negative, there are enormous benefits to be recognised if we first set some boundaries.

Technological and digital innovation does not happen in a vacuum - it's driven by social context. While big data has been seen as 'the new oil' - a resource to be mined, extracted, and sold - we owe it greater respect for it is truly much more precious.

Data is the new blood, not oil.
Digital anthropologist, Dr Rahaf Harfoush, believes we should fight harder to protect our privacy, as data is actually digitised pieces of our identity - and therefore much more akin to blood, not oil.

If we want to see big data harnessed for societal good - and not purely commercial gain - we owe it more respect. By switching to a human-centric approach - with empathy and respect at the center of our conversations and strategies on data management - we'll truly unlock more true value from big data.

Media makers & the danger zone

Given Monocle's status as a global media platform, it felt entirely natural that many of the sessions on day one should touch on the role of the media in creating, shaping and reflecting culture and daily life in our cities.

Whether it's reporting the latest from the campaign trail, the hottest bands and restaurant openings, or sharing news direct from conflict zones - narrative and transparency remain high on the agenda.
When asked how he successfully captured life in New York for so many years, former Editor in Chief of New York magazine, Adam Moss focused on the big picture first. 

"Like all media, our role was to create a narrative that reflected society back to itself. Journalists are interpreters and retrievers of information while editors piece together the meta-narrative to tell the story of our time. Successful publications today are first and foremost those that translate the public sphere - the food we eat, the relationships we have, the art we create. In this sense, the media creates a present tense historical narrative."

War photographer and documentary maker, Ron Haviv, also believes in the reflective obligation of the media - especially when it comes to conflict.

"In a conflict zone, our job is to have impact. We amplify voices that need to be heard and hold people accountable for their actions - and also their inaction. Journalism is critical to accountability.The objective of conflict journalism is to affect lives for the better and tell the stories of those without a voice or platform of their own."

Nicolas Henin, journalist and former Isis hostage warned us not of the Jihad or the rise of the Islamic State, but instead cautioned provided these words of warning:

"Misinformation is a big issue when it comes to conflict and political reporting. And there is a critical difference between misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. 'Fake news' is a word used by dictators. It is the word of someone who is attacking the press, not critically engaging in healthy public debate."

Food = Art = Life
A pioneer of the Spanish food scene globally, El Internacional chef Montse Guillen  has found success around the globe. An artist and food campaigner, she pioneered nouveau cuisine in Spain, then took Tapas to New York and beyond.

Guillen views Spanish 'Tapas' - a typical sharing food - as an important metaphor for what makes cities thrive. You can't be too focused on where the divisions lie and you must always take pleasure in moments of surprise and delight.

The septuagenarian Guillen continues to approach her cooking with panache and a sense of creative play. She's a passionate advocate for the consumption of locusts - delicious, full of protein and an untapped sustainable food source - and she once hosted an event with 70 sets of twins, creating for each set an identical dish in appearance with an entirely different taste - well, por que no?!

Visionaries like Montse Guillen prove that sustainability and innovation are not only the domain of the young - but also, the young at heart.

The secret to a happier life?
When Adam Moss left his role at New York magazine aged 60, he set out to redefine his priorities.

"I wanted to see what my life would be like with less ambition. Ambition had defined me all my life, but although satisfying and rewarding on many levels, it hadn't provided me with the best quality of life. Now I try to define my life through different values. It's a fun and adolescent-like state, full of terror and existential dilemmas!" 

Rather than pushing yourself to always look for and ask for more, we wonder...what might your brand, project or life look like if instead, just once in a while, you asked for less?

Expectations are, Sir David Chipperfield believes, at the heart of happiness, especially for the Galician locals in his adopted Spanish home.

“People in Galicia are content. Why? We don’t expect too much. This is a rather philosophical statement, but I find happiness is directly related to expectations. What are the core components of happiness? Well yes, physical environment is very important - and something we've underestimated in many places - but if we let it, happiness can come from an appreciation of our daily life and the spaces we live in.”

Sir Chipperfield also noted the 'quotidian confidence' of the people of Madrid - and the importance of daily life in Spain more broadly. 

"The way the people in Spain maneuvered through unbelievably difficult years (post GFC) is extraordinary and absolutely a testament to the social fabric of this country."

Some fast tips for a better quality of life?

1. For anyone who has a 'database' see what happens when you instead call it your 'people-base'. This small change can totally alter how you view and nurture intimate relationships, encouraging you to scale down your network but dial up the human factor.

2. It's time to be more precise about what we define as 'innovation'. What might happen if we flip the paradigm and define innovation not just as what is 'new' but as something that has to be diverse, ethical, sustainable and purposeful? How many companies today could be considered truly innovative and how might we better support them?

3. When it comes to food, art and culture, we consume what the industry provides to us, but it's time to make the discovery process more democratic. In food, for example, there is infinite choice globally, but the industry designs and limits our experience. (eg. When traditional world ingredients like Acai, Quinoa and Kale are reincarnated as trendy 'superfoods'). The complex market systems determine what arrives when, where and how, but it's time we looked outside traditional channels for new foods, rituals, ceremonies and ways to connect with food - and the humans that make it. 

4. From hospitality to retail, media to government, brands today seeking engagement and adoption are turning to 'active design'. In an attempt to drive human interaction and social inclusion (key factors in happiness worldwide), brands from high end through to high street are creating opportunities for their audiences and consumers to communicate with one another. 

5. Overwhelmingly, no matter how technical or complicated the challenge may seem, the solutions have to be human in character.

We hope you've enjoyed this update today. We're already looking forward to sharing more with you tomorrow as we step out onto the streets of Madrid for a guided, behind the scenes tour of the best retail and architecture spaces in Madrid.

Remember, we'd also love to see you face to face at our upcoming Insights event in Richmond on 24 July - so please RSVP below if you can make it.

Hasta pronto,

Insights from Monocle + RISE

Keen to join our Insights breakfast on Monocle and RISE on Wednesday 24th July at Creative Cubes Richmond from 7.30am - 9am?
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