What is life?

By | 16th March 2010

What is life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

Most of us rarely have time to look at the great buildings which surround our places of work or rest. W. H. Davies thought that life was not worth having if you could not enjoy a good gawp in a leisurely fashion.

Recently, I have had an opportunity to look rather more closely at some of the buildings in the City of London and in Norwich, which was, from the 11th century until it was overtaken by the expansion of Bristol largely as a result of the slave trade, the second most important city in England.

To give you a taste of what I mean, I noted that:

  • The Royal Exchange was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1565 as a centre of commerce in the City
  • Jonathan Miles founded a coffee house in the City around 1680, the site of which is famous as the site of the original London Stock Exchange founded in 1801
  • The Lloyd’s market began in Edward Lloyd’s coffee house in Tower Street in 1688 and the Society of Lloyd’s moved to the Royal Exchange in 1774
  • The Normans constructed Norwich Castle in the 1070s
  • Norwich Cathedral was started by Herbert de Losinga in 1096
  • Thomas Bignold set up the first Norwich Union Society in 1797 to help himself insure against attacks by highwaymen and quickly realised there was a need for an insurance scheme to protect the citizenry in the event of fire, prevalent in a city largely built of wood.

What fascinates me about these institutions is their longevity. A Cathedral started over 900 years ago is still in use today, indeed I was at a service there last week. The Castle is certainly still there dominating the area around as it must have done in Norman times and Norwich Union may be called Aviva but it is still very much in business as its recent results show.

Similarly, the Royal Exchange standing at the confluence of Threadneedle Steet and Cornhill just opposite the Bank of England (founded in 1694), is now a thriving centre of commerce as it was intended to be almost 450 years ago.

What about the coffee houses? I have always thought that it is the most extraordinary development that places where men came together to drink coffee and talk should have grown into global institutions such as Lloyd’s and the Stock Exchange.

Where do we go from here? Where are the coffee houses of 2010 and into what will they be transformed?

Personally I do not see the site of the first Starbucks or Café Nero becoming the first inter-galactic communications centre, but have to acknowledge the growing power of social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and new(ish) media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Del.icio.us

After all, how could you not accept that this media is increasingly important in our lives when the news is dominated by them? John Terry certainly discovered the power of the social networking sites when his super injunction was undermined by the information already in the public domain as a result of such sites.

David Milliband is reported to have written lovingly about Michael Jackson and his brother Ed extolled the virtues of a porn site for better sex. Both denied they had posted the information and that they were victims of a scam and, of course, we believe them. Likewise Harriet Harman’s “bogus” message to the Shadow Prisons Minister, Alan Duncan.

As an organisation which regards itself as operating at the leading edge of e-discovery in this country and globally, Millnet is taking Twitter and the like more seriously. When we started tweeting, we immediately received a Tweet congratulating us on joining the 21st Century!

My point is that, while it may be difficult to see where the likes of Facebook or Twitter are going, there is no denying the power of the medium. This means that lawyers and anyone else wanting to operate successfully in a given area must get to grips with modern ways of communication. The quill pen is dead, long live the keyboard!

A recent headline in the Sunday papers [Cyber spoofs launch digital election war, Sunday Times, 28 Feb 2010] suggests that the upcoming General Election is to be fought in the social media. I don’t know but what is clear is that individuals now have huge power at their fingertips to influence and contribute to debates on all levels and it is difficult to see how this can be avoided. Meeting places are still required and while coffee may not be on sale and the meeting places are in cyberspace or the blogosphere, those keen to build relationships and businesses still need a forum in which to meet and discuss business but which is entirely different to what it was only a few years ago.

It must be worth while to “stand and stare” occasionally, particularly if that moment of thought provides the impetus to build a new relationship which ultimately will assist in improving the way a business problem is resolved.

We can help with that too. Come and talk to us about your e-discovery problems. The coffees are on us!