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No social dilemma: Michael Hayman for Great British Brands

21 January 2021

This piece originally appeared in Great British Brands

The Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma is sinister stuff, capturing our concern about the motives of the big social media companies. Our fear is that these giants know what makes us tick and use that power to lure us into becoming digital addicts. In so doing they’re opening a Pandora’s Box of social problems that have been designed into the experience.

For tech detractors this is the gotcha moment. The fallen angel is revealed to be manipulating us all for a fast buck.

But tech proponents see the film as pulp fiction rather than a revealing documentary. For them, technology has proven itself capable of a greater good, way beyond the remit of social media companies, and this year is proof positive that tech has found its nest hour, the modern marvel lifting the global gloom of the pandemic. Not only did it keep us connected as we were confined to our homes, it crucially demonstrated that by working with science, it could develop medicines and mitigations to vanquish our viral adversary. And if tech can crush Covid, think of the other social and environmental challenges it might be able to combat from hereon in.

While there is boundless optimism about the future from techies, your personal view on where tech is taking us depends if you believe in the sunny uplands of digitally enabled lives or the inexorable descent into enslavement by the machine. But it doesn’t have to be so black and white.

Luxury goods providers upped their game in the Covid 2020 crisis and showed it’s possible to find a way between the two – making the most of digital opportunities to keep in touch with clients, without losing the personal touch, or the profit. Like many British brands, jeweller Theo Fennell used digital resources for reaching out to new clients as well as existing ones during lockdown. ‘New technology allowed us to talk to our customers, show them our designs and then keep in regular contact and show them the progress of the piece live from the workshop. We have also added more interactive shopping elements,’ he says, ‘such as the facility for mix-and-matching when buying our coloured crystal bottles and silver stoppers online.’

For some, the silver lining of lockdown was an opportunity to reset company goals, redirecting resources normally spent on travel and trade shows into developing designs and improving customers’ digital experience. Many British brands would echo what Jean Christophe Babin of Bulgari told us