A co-designer of the New Scotland Yard Control Room commented on LinkedIn that Discussion Festival is a glimpse into the future of meetings. Fourth Portal Stage 3 testing focuses on the virtual Lucia House and how this developing business model will soon become the new normal. 

New Scotland Yard Control Room 1969 and 2000 (Google images)

Communication and relationships

A co-designer of the Bank of England and New Scotland Yard Control Rooms commented on LinkedIn, Discussion Festival is a glimpse into the future of meetings. Denis O’Brien spent his career in and thinking about design and ergonomics. Control in the context of a Control Room is probably misplaced as the room is a room for communications; control is a result of communication, not vice-versa.

Denis is one of several people whose work involves understanding systems and have become intrigued by the developing Fourth Portal Lucia House hybrid. Investigating how to build a hybrid concept began in 2018 and has concentrated on how people will communicate and form meaningful relationships in the future.

A straightforward concept

On paper, the hybrid concept is simple; a location where a person can talk to others in the room and simultaneously elsewhere.

The concept is not new; teleconferencing dates back to the 1980s and was available much earlier. Technical issues developing publicly accessible hybrids are audio, not visuals. Conversations bleeding into one another and audio feedback are the main challenges for hybrid spaces to become more broadly available. Solving the audio issues is complex and the reason why audio is attracting large amounts of public and private funding for research and development. In time, affordable technical solutions will overcome problems concerning sound.

Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander using an Ericsson videophone to speak with Lennart Hyland, a popular TV show host (1969). Image via Wikipedia

The end of real-world meetings?

So does the emergence of hybrid equate to there never being a reason to meet another person in real-life again, as it can be done virtually? No, and far from it.

Articles and research discussing virtual meetings, gigs, consultations, shopping and metaverse are often simplistic. The tendency is to concentrate on technology and the pros and cons of whether hybrids are taking off or dying. These arguments are symptomatic of an economic transactional mind-frame, even when people believe they are not talking about economics. Writing and research on hybrids should instead focus on human behaviours and need. 

Hybrid will dwarf Facebook and YouTube combined economically. This is how extensive the hybrid market will become. Does this also mean Facebook and Google will dominate the space? Unlikely. If anything, Facebook and Google may end up in an exhibition cabinet in a virtual museum along with Ask Jeeves and Myspace.

Not social media

Three aspects of modern hybrid communication make this period different from the transformation brought about by social media.

  1. How humans communicate and form meaningful relationships
  2. Accessibility to global communication systems and the cost
  3. Developments in machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, linked data and semantic technology.

1. How humans communicate and form meaningful relationships

Is there any evidence that the invention of the telephone destroyed the ability to have meaningful relationships? No.

The invention of the telephone enabled the expansion of meaningful relationships with people who would otherwise have been almost inaccessible. Society’s fascination with telephones soon faded and was absorbed into everyday life, becoming just an instrument for communication.

Through communication, relationships are formed. Hybrids are no different. They will become just another instrument or tool for people to use to connect with another human with the added ability to also engage with an object or activity.

2. Accessibility to global communication systems and the cost

Laying cables and building exchanges made the rollout of the telephone a slow process. More than a century after its invention, half the world still did not have direct access to the telephone. This has changed dramatically even since the launch of social media around 2004/5.

Satellite communications allow communication to inaccessible places. Relay systems even provide for those with hearing impairment and deafness. Communication infrastructure has now spread to all parts of the world. The cost of employing such infrastructure continues to fall.

In terms of people communicating, the world could become one big village.

3. Developments in machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, linked data and semantic technology

As with laying the cables and building the exchanges of the early telephone network, much of the digital technology foundations are now in place. Machines only learn what a cat looks like by looking at millions of images of cats. These images have been provided by millions of people uploading photos of their cats to social networks and websites.

As hardware, like camera phones improve, and as more people are connected to the web, machines will have more data from which to learn. In time, this will lead to further innovations and opportunities.

The layout of Discussion Festival Season One table and topics

Understanding the need

In 2005, few people could realise the potential of YouTube. The key reasons were that camera phones and broadband were still relatively primitive to what is experienced today. There was also little perceived need for such a technology. This also applied to Zoom in 2019; it will never catch on. Then came the pandemic.

The Discussion Festivals research highlighted many of the same comments and resistances noted in 2005 when this author was trying to raise interest in self-video creation and podcasting. At that time, there was almost no one willing to discuss further than as a general chat. The key reason was there was no perceived need.

Poets, professors, dancers, teachers, engineers, politicians, business people and more show interest in the Fourth Portal before returning to doing what they are doing. There generally remains a disconnect between how life was lived before social media, text messaging and camera phones and now because these things have become the norm. The Discussion Festival is highlighting that most see hybrid as another form of social media. This is a misplaced understanding.

The hybrid needs to be imagined as the arrival of the invention of the telephone. It will be fundamental to everyday communication and life. Social media, as it is used and understood today, will be absorbed into hybrid communications. Hybrid allows for much richer contact with others. It will expand connection beyond the restraints of physical walls and controlled virtual spaces, as provided by Zoom and others.

Global Cafe

Hybrid is likely to explode in locations where other forms of physical infrastructure are less developed. Areas suffering from poor public transport, roads and bridges. Towns suffering from a lack of conducive meeting places like cafes, pubs and community spaces. Remote or inhospitable places, like Antarctica.

A new kind of global cafe community will transpire. These communities already exist in a lesser form, gaming being the best example, and to some degree in international corporations. The global cafe community will be more diverse, open and exposed to new ideas and innovation. New businesses and forums will emerge that have not yet been imagined. How everyone works, socialises, purchases and is educated will expand beyond recognition.

Screenshot from Discussion Festival DF026 Camille Table

The layout of the Discussion Festival Season One table and topics

That’s all in the future

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”, as William Gibson the author has written (Wikipedia)

The opportunities are enormous, as are the risks of becoming even more isolated for those determined to resist. It is why spaces where people can come together, whether physical or virtual, are the necessary next step in how people communicate.

Fourth Portal and the Fourth Portal Lucia House are early attempts to develop a hybrid equivalent of the telephone exchange. 

Telephone exchanges were set up to centralise the telephone network within a smaller geographic area. This system allowed other individual lines to be connected through a central station. These were the forerunners of switchboards. An individual would need to manually connect the wires to each other through the switchboard. Most of the early users of phones were businesses. Many phones would go to a doctor’s office, police station or bank. Individuals could subscribe to the switchboard for a monthly fee that gave them access to the telephone network.


Each Fourth Portal will be the hub for a smaller geographical area. Each hub will allow people to connect both manually, in the physical space, whether to socialise, work, learn or shop and virtually, via remote access. The majority of early adopters will be those considering the next evolution of their business, education, friendship circle or personal development.  

The Fourth Portal is an opportunity to immerse in the near future.  

Relational Industry

A prosumer is an individual who both consumes and produces. The term is a portmanteau of the words producer and consumer. Research has identified six types of prosumers: DIY prosumers, self-service prosumers, customising prosumers, collaborative prosumers, monetised prosumers, and economic prosumers.[1]

The terms prosumer and prosumption were coined in 1980 by American futurist Alvin Toffler and were widely used by many technology writers of the time. Technological breakthroughs and a rise in user participation blur the line between production and consumption activities, with the consumer becoming a prosumer.


Social media was, and remains, a prosumer industry. The Facebook model is predicated on people posting content that others wish to look at. US Cable television had already introduced this model in the 1980s, and social media only expanded it.

Screenshots of the Fourth Portal Lucia House virtual and real-world testing (2022)

Hybrid is different

Hybrid will be much less about consumption and more about connection and reconnecting, not only to individual people but to places, activities, environments and communities. Hybrid will become more democratic and less dictated. It will reverse the trend towards social isolation that has been growing.

Social isolation and loneliness are increasingly being recognised as a priority public health problem and policy issue for older people. (World Health Organisation, Social Isolation and Loneliness)


Whereas social media is about creating content for others to consume, hybrids will become an avenue to connect to like-minded communities. Geographical location will become less of a hindrance to meeting new people. Even language will become less of a barrier to finding such communities as languaging applications allow instant translation.

Providing spaces for this new collective mind view is at the heart of the Fourth Portal and the Fourth Portal Lucia House. Spaces where people seed new ideas, grow networks, watch relationships flower and feed a new generation of positive connectivity.

Viewing the Fourth Portal Lucia House promotion


Many of the recent ills in society are blamed squarely on social media. Algorithms driving social media have certainly contributed towards antagonistic social interaction. Feelings of inadequacy and FOMO – fear of missing out – have had consequences for many people. On the other side, there have been, and are, many positive aspects to social media, including bringing old acquaintances together, forming new friendship circles and keeping people updated on personal and business developments.

Social media can create connections but does not, in general terms, build meaningful relationships in the same manner as real-life interaction. This is where hybrids will be different. Hybrid spaces will be more akin to physical interaction.

The combination of global, efficient telecommunications accessible to much of the population provides opportunities to form relationships that were not possible in previous times. Advancements in machines and artificial intelligence will bring about a revolution in business and social interaction. It will lead to previously unimagined engagement with other people, some already known, others yet to be met.

Fourth Portal has been envisaged much like the World Wide Web (www). A web of nodes communicating with each other and sending messages back and forth. Instead of computer nodes, it will be people communicating with each other.

The Discussion Festival Season One was set out with virtual hosted tables that visitors could move between uninhibited. The Fourth Portal Lucia House has virtual rooms, with sofas, record players and wine racks, that people can wander in and out of and interact. The Fourth Portal’s tests in Great Yarmouth were to develop the real-world aspect of the hybrid model.

What comes next is how these seemingly different contexts bleed into one another to form a space that feels normal. Places like fully hybrid Fourth Portals will soon become the new normal. The technology will be almost secondary, it will be the meaningful relationships that form within the spaces. And not only between people but also between objects, the environment and the wider world. Join us! Subscribe or email here.

John M

We are testing our virtual Lucia House throughout 2023. To have a tour, check https://www.fourthportal.com/ for upcoming dates.


Season 3 of the Discussion Festival begins in January 2023 with the theme of developing connections that build meaningful relationships. The new Fourth Portal Lucia House is totally different from the Airmeet venue from Seasons one and two. Easy-to-navigate furnished rooms allow fun interactions and even more random conversations and connections.

Season 3 Theme

The theme for Discussion Festival Season 3 will be creating connections that lead to lasting relationships.

A selection of the rooms available for hosts to present a topic, hold a discussion or class, sell a product or service, and almost anything else.


Hosts are requested to embed this theme into their chosen topic or activity. The theme does not change what a host intends to do and is not compulsory. In a time of polarisation exasperated by social media, the theme might assist in revealing new avenues to developing meaningful connections through an online setting.

By the end of Season 3, we may understand more about how online connections extend into a real-world environment.

View all our virtual rooms here.





Growing evidence

The previous Discussion Festivals have highlighted the potential for real-world relationships to blossom out of online connections. Relationships here are different to meeting a person through a dating site. On dating sites, the sole intention is to find a meaningful, often romantic, connection. For the Discussion Festival, people were joining for a myriad of reasons, only one possibly being to meet someone romanticly.

Screenshot from Discussion Festival DF026 Camille Table

Screenshot from Discussion Festival 026, tables had different topics, began at various times and guests moved freely between each table as they pleased.

People do develop relationships through Zoom-type online platforms. However, these connections are generally managed, to some degree, in advance; the Zoom organiser directs proceedings. The Discussion Festivals have been much freer. Visitors wander around without hindrance and drop in on topics that have some appeal. Organic conversations emerge with connections forming.

Random selection of tables from Discussion Festival Season One and Season Two

Building real-world relationships

The evidence to claim firm real-world connections have developed out of the previous Discussion Festival seasons is soft. Season 3 is to gather more concrete examples of new firm relationships forming.

This evidence will feed into the new Fourth Portal real-world location, due to open in 2023. In the meantime, we will continue to develop how visitors to the real-world Fourth Portal and our virtual Lucia House can have a seamless hybrid experience.

Writing the paradigm

The evaluation process of season 3 will draw upon work by Professor. John Wood (Goldsmiths, University of London), particularly his work on mapping paradigms.

We will be looking beyond human-to-human relationships. What factors trigger people to make a connection? How do these connections move on to become a meaningful relationships or not? What role does the relationship between people and pets, people and objects, objects and the environment, environment and mood, mood and decision-making, and decision-making and language all have in forming a meaningful connection?

What people say

Click here to find out what hosts and visitors thought of Discussion Festival seasons one and two by clicking here.

Want to host?

Discussion Festival Season 3 runs throughout January and into February 2023 and is free to host and visit.

We have a new venue, our homegrown Fourth Portal Lucia House, built by John Kozak, Val Wardlaw and the wider Lucia collective. It is very different to the previous Discussion Festival space and will offer more opportunities for random conversations and connections to form. Check out the 28 rooms now available, with more coming soon.

To host a room or find out more

Email johnm@platform-7.com

To learn more about the next Fourth Portal

Email info@fourthportal.com

See a full list of all Discussion Festivals here

John M


Stage two of the Fourth Portal testing has begun in Great Yarmouth. It will introduce the hybrid LiftPod, developing the provenance system and other technologies. 

Stage one

Stage one focused on opening a physical Fourth Portal in a former Citizens Advice Bureau. The goal was to gauge public reaction and inform the Platform-7 network. As expected, we hit problems that all new businesses face when starting up. We fell behind on bringing in the technologies we wanted to sample and need a second testing period. Read TEST HUB for more on stage one.

Lauren in emerging Fourth Portal popup in Great Yarmouth

Stage two testing 

Stage two runs throughout October and November 2022, Monday to Friday, 11am-6pm. There will be occasional Saturday openings and evening events.  Free WiFi and an internal network allow visitors to surf the internet and work offline.

The main goal for stage two is to set up our in-house technologies. Showing various apps and raising awareness of the Fourth Portal will also be a priority. 


The Lucia Collective developed a four-floor virtual house in 2020. With pandemic lockdowns, the online house became a meeting point for friends. The fun 2D space has simple keyboard commands to move around and resembles early video games. 

Around the same time, Platform-7 was running the online Discussion Festival. The weekly event sought to understand how people move around unaided during an online event. 

Conversations developed between Lucia Collective and Platform-7 on the future of hybrid events. These conversations have led to the development of a hybrid arm of the Fourth Portal. The LiftPod is our first real-world experiment. 

Provenance system

Graham Klyne developed his linked data tool as part of the Fusing Audio and Semantic Technology (FAST) programme. Platform-7 was working on presenting FAST to the music industry at Abbey Road Studios. 

Discussions began on using linked data as a form of provenance system. Provenance is the ability to know the history of a product or object. Fourth Portal is creating ‘In The Frame’ (ITF) to test some ideas. Framed photos of people who changed the course of history will be on display. These photos will have an identifier that a mobile phone can read. This identifier will open and provide information about the person in the frame. 

The basics of linked data are not very complicated. The challenge lies in the classification of information. This is important, as it partly underpins AI and Machine Learning. See THE SEMANTIC WEB for more. 

Assistive apps

Great Yarmouth suffers from deprivation and low educational attainment. A benefit of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the availability of assistive apps. Such apps are widely available and often have a free element. This provides an opportunity for people to improve their life chances through self-help. Apps can assist in helping to improve reading to way-finding for those with a disability.

A selection of apps will be on display with visitors urged to try them and see if they are of benefit. 

Art and creativity

Understanding creativity through the lens of art is an established method. Peter Rodulfo and Kevin Gavaghan are the two artists exhibiting this autumn. Technologies relating to the artists’ work will be displayed alongside the paintings.

Raising the profile

Stage two will begin the process of raising the profile of the Fourth Portal. Low-key publicity, live events and future blog posts will introduce the business. Feedback from visitors will prove vital to the development of the business model. 


The Fourth Portal is a business model of the future. It is complicated as it brings together elements that are often separate. Retail, work, learning and social all mix within the same space. For a public unused to such an experience, the place may cause confusion. Stage two is to understand how to ensure people are comfortable coming in. What encourages them to stay and what causes them to leave? It is all part of an enjoyable learning process. 

John M

Fourth Portal, 2 Stonecutters Way, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30 1HF (find us)


The lines between privacy, censorship and freedom of speech blurred as the internet evolved. This blurring is where the battle for social media is happening. Only real-world dialogue and understanding will produce a solution fair to all.

It‘s unfair accusing governments of abdicating duty around online communication. The issues are complex. Every decision a government makes will have long term ramifications. Unlike laws within a country’s borders, the internet requires global solutions. What one country deems libellous will be satire in another.

Culture. Economic standing. Educational attainment. Religious and political norms. Many considerations have to feed into the internet debate. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides the first step.


In January 2021, Twitter removed the account of Donald Trump. During this period, Donald Trump was one of the most popular accounts, by followers, on the platform. He was also the sitting President of the United States of America. In removing the account, Twitter effectively issued a D-Notice.

A D-Notice is an old UK government device sent to media editors to voluntarily not report on a story. The fundamental difference between a democratic government and Twitter is one is elected, and the other is not.

And herein lies the rub. Who gets to decide what is and what is not acceptable online?

Has Twitter become a new form of democratic state? Rather than built on votes, Twitter runs on Tweets and sentiment.


Marketers use sentiment analysis to ascertain campaign effectiveness. It is a powerful tool for understanding how the public reacts to a topic or event. What it does not have are policy setting attributes. And this is what sets a government apart from corporations. Governments, in theory, set policies for the overall good of society in its entirety. Corporate policies set strategic goals for the company, shareholders and customers.

Distributed power

Aside from politics, the Trump episode highlights a dispersal of power. Beyond a vote, citizens can now vocalise their views, demands and concerns globally. This vocalisation has brought benefits and worrying situations. The storming of the US Capitol in January 2021 is one case in point.

Printing press politics

At the time of its creation, the printing press was the social media platform of its day. What followed sparked the violence of the Protestant Reformation and widespread education. One saw families and communities torn apart while the other brought societies together.

Our present period is no different.

The 2011 Arab Spring was, in part, attributed to social media as much as the underlying discontent. In Syria, a brutal war ensued. In Saudi Arabia, women began forcing reform around equality.

Protests, Black Lives Matter (BLM) and #MeToo went global due to social media. Groups opposed to change also use the same platforms to maintain the status quo.

So who is the referee for social media? And who was the referee for the printing press?

Public space and the arts

Public space has been the one constant throughout the history of societal change. Back to the time of the Greek agora, public space has proven pivotal, along with the arts, in forging progress.

Technological interaction is integral to progress. Real-world interaction is essential to peaceful co-existence.

It has never been more critical to have open gathering places and public spaces. Real-world environments challenge opinions and viewpoints. There is more exposure when people meet in person. More reactions are on show; body language, sweat, pupil dilation. These reactions can be positive or negative, depending on the situation. It is a different dynamic to sitting semi-anonymous behind a keyboard.

Fourth Portal

Public space, where people come together remains the best place for consensus to emerge. The arts will play a pivotal role as always. The ability of artists to see beyond the mundane will light the path.

The haphazard business journey has been to uncover what a hub of the future will look like? What does it need to convey? What will make it different?

The Fourth Portal hub needs to counter-balance the online environment. A hybrid meeting place, operating in both the real and virtual world. Open discussion and dialogue are intrinsic to the hub.

A successful Fourth Portal will spill over into other public forums. The reassertion of the historical value of public space is needed. Encouragement is required to reevaluate the importance of the town square and marketplace as places to gather. Urban design needs to incorporate hybrid relatedness into all future buildings. A well designed public space will be both physical and virtual.


Censorship demands by one group will be freedom of expression for another.

Measures to balance different views have not kept pace with the growth of online platforms. Meanwhile, the internet has become an extension of everyday life. It has allowed mass connectivity. Despite this, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Something is not right!

Censorship and privacy laws will be unable to address the problems of online interaction. Only real-life engagement and dialogue will solve these issues.

Governments are struggling to draft legislation. Big tech presently fills the void with their own rules.

We are only on our second-generation since the creation of the World Wide Web. The printing press has had dozens of generations shaping laws, regulations and principles, and we are still tinkering.

Public space, where people come together, remains the best place for consensus to emerge. It may take a long time. Discussion allows a better understanding. Ultimately, new online manners will emerge through real-world conversations – not on Twitter. The Fourth Portal will play a small part in nudging this conversation towards equitable consensus.

John M


A Great Yarmouth gem and must see museum, the Time and Tide presents an outstanding permanent collection documenting the rich history of the town’s fishing industry and offers a sober reflection on the challenges it continues to face. In addition, there are two marvellous galleries for touring shows, presently housing the terrific Fisherwomen exhibition, by Craig Easton.

Street Scene Reconstruction

Excellent reconstruction of a Great Yarmouth Row (narrow passageway street) and the inside of homes. Far right, photo of a row before WWI.

History of Time and Tide Museum

The following is a cut directly from the gallery website, https://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/time-tide

Time and Tide occupies the premises of the Tower Fish Curing Works, originally built c.1850 and enlarged in 1880. The works closed in 1988.

In 1998 the Tower Fish Curing Works were purchased for conversion into a museum – designed by Norwich architects Purcell Miller Tritton.

The museum tells the story of Great Yarmouth and its herring industry and the lingering aroma of the smokehouse remains today. 

A town built on herrings

Visitors are taken on a well curated journey of the herring industry, with beautifully created rooms that avoids the schmaltz that sometimes accompanies recreated scenes.

Left to right: Reighing room, Woman with herrings, Barrel stencilling, Fisherman with catch


Because of the nature of the work, coastal towns had their own fashion, and one enterprising local entrepreneur has realised that there is probably a good market for such garments today.


Spin off industries

A short film on the Great Yarmouth basket industry was absorbing, and as with the clothes it is one of those industries that could easily make a small come back as the world continues to turn its back on plastics.

Left to right: Short film on the importance of baskets to the herring industry, Selection of baskets, A port for 800 years

Other machinery

The museum has an eclectic range of machines.

Left: Herring packing machine, Right: A mutocope

Gallery architecture and curation

The gallery is housed in a beautiful building, sensitively designed and lovingly restored with a clever use of sculpture and illustration to provide the viewer with a strong sense of life in a smoke house.

Left: Roof rafters, Right: Illustration of herrings being smoked

Left to Right: Head of Britannia (concrete, around 1850), Glass herring sculpture, Excellent series of stories of people from overseas who moved to Great Yarmouth

Fisherwomen touring exhibition

Fisherwoman is a moving and informative travelling photo exhibition of the often forgotten women of the herring industry. The narrative plots the path of the boats that would follow the herrings from Shetland down the North Sea, bringing catches to shore all along the east coast where women would gut, pack and sell the fish.

Thinking of modern Great Yarmouth

The Time and Tide and the Craig Easton exhibition shines a light on a place like Great Yarmouth, providing detail on how such a place evolves and why some things that may appear odd to outsiders makes perfect sense within the town. Whether considering the diet, the housing or the drinking, only by visiting such cultural places can a real glimpse into the past be found that determines the present and likely shapes the future.

John M


The methods used in curating long-term art interventions in public spaces over the past decade is proving useful grounding for developing new economic spaces for these challenging Covid times.

Previous interventions

I founded the Platform-7 network out of the creative customer base of my Moonbow Jakes coffee bars and theatre in 2009. Beginning with one-off large scaled events, I curated my first 3-month intervention in 2011, in Margate, Kent, which followed the impact of the Turner Contemporary art gallery on the nearby deprived area of Cliftonville. I have curated several more since then of various lengths, including 3-months in a riot-abandoned Blockbusters video in Catford, discussing impact of technology, and 4-months in a disused HMV record store in the City of London discussing consumption and wastefulness.

Intervention methodologies

Interventionist methodologies go back centuries in various forms and in more recent times generally tied to philosophy and resistance. To the modern viewer, interventionism can seem a little too abstract to understand as the process trumps the goal. In modern capitalist business thinking, there must be a strategic aim, objective and final goal, usually meaning a profitable financial transaction. Interventionism borrows heavily from the arts, where often the process is the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect. Interventions still have strategic goals, for example to influence people to reconsider why they have the opinions they do on subjects as diverse as war, environment or art. However, they do not seek to lead but to engage on an equal footing, which allows the intervention to adapt, evolve and transmogrify as more people add their input.

End product

Moonbow Margate (2011) | From this (L) to this (R) in 6 weeks

My interventions have attracted thousands of people, the majority arriving close to the end, when the space is alive, buzzing and full of interesting art, people and discussion. Yet for those who wander in near the outset there is usually a more mixed reaction. Many will just see an empty room. Artists will see a gallery space. And then there are those who are seeking to pivot their own life.

Waste Agency (2014-15) | From this (L) to this (R) in 4 weeks

Interventionist journey

For those in the midst of personal change, the road can seem lonely. Our Western conditioning tends to focus on practical solutions to these periods of life; a change of job or relationship, go travelling, buy a new car. Too often these answers are only short-lived, with the urge, itch, unhappiness soon returning and sometimes leading to anxiety and other negative impacts. The blank canvas that the interventionist approach offers can represent, in physical form, the anxiety that discarding convention causes; and this becomes attractive to those seeking a break from personal conformity.

“Anxiety levels were highest among an estimated 8.6 million people whose income fell, according to the weekly survey on the impact of coronavirus.”

BBC, Money worries in pandemic drive surge in anxiety, 4 May 2020

Tapescape Catford (2012) | From this (L) to this (R) in 2 weeks

Post-covid anxiety

One of the major issues becoming apparent from this pandemic across the Western world is the increasing level of anxiety. The disruption to ‘normality’ through lockdown has forced many to reassess the way they have lived life up to this point. Whether or not people keep or lose their jobs, some will be considering how they lived before the lockdown is really how they will want to live and spend their time post this period.

Fourth Portal

“Covid-19 will only increase automation anxiety”   

FT Headline, Opinion | Artificial Intelligence, 21 April 2020

Fourth Portal will be a commercial led intervention, and the conclusion to this first part of the Haphazard Business journey, creating an innovation hub. Using the interventionist methods touched on above, these new Fourth Portals will be technology led retail-esque cum gallery spaces, exploring what the world may look-like post Covid-19. The spaces will evolve over the summer of 2020, encouraging people to share their thoughts and add their input, creating some completely unique spaces in Great Yarmouth, fit for the coming 4IR.

John M


With Covid-19 ravaging populations and the World trying to come to terms with lockdown, it seems an appropriate moment to reactivate this Platform-7 project from 2013 exploring the trauma that follows on from a sudden shocking change in circumstance.



Silent Cacophony took place in a multitude of locations simultaneously on Remembrance Day 2013 exploring the abstract nature of events like we are presently experiencing with Covid-19. The disease is inflicting mass death, suffering and forcing populations to adapt behaviour, and it can be assumed, leading many people to reassess what being human means.

Meaning of event

Increasingly over the past century the word ‘event’ has become associated with some form of performance, whether pop festival or football match. However, ‘event’ is really a moment in time when something extraordinary happens, which can be bad like a car crash or great, as when a healthy child is born. Daily life is full of small personal events that make up an individuals’ personality and worldview, then occasionally these small events are overtaken by a major personal event, as in being diagnosed with cancer or winning the jackpot on the lottery.

Recreating the feelings, emotions and empathy an individual feels at the moment of experiencing a major event is very difficult to recreate outside the bubble of that actual moment. The pain of hearing of death of one that is dearly loved or joy of first-love are very personal and acute sensations. In my view, only art can offer a close proximity to such emotions, by twanging the atoms deep within that foist upon humans the extreme emotional response that only appear in times of rare circumstance.

Silent Cacophony

Silent Cacophony inception came from reading personal diaries of people living through the two World Wars, particularly those who were exposed to sudden explosion, whether a bomb landing on their house or a bombardment from artillery while in a trench. A pattern began to emerge where people would describe life before a particularly incident in rosier terms and the time afterwards using deeply disturbing language. Similar accounts can be found when reading witness statements from victims of terrorist atrocities and major accidents. Terms like ‘it was so peaceful you could only hear the birds sing’, ‘life was all so perfect before…’ or ‘not a sound could be heard before the first explosion’ proliferate such writing. What I found fascinating was whether there was any reality to these accounts, the ‘before the explosion’ moment where they claim to be actually aware of the world surrounding them. My challenge was fairly mundane, people notice silence when they go on holiday to the country from the city or find themselves on a deserted beach, however in the general hubbub of daily life the sounds of aeroplanes, the worry about going into overdraft and picking up the kids from school fills the conscious mind. For soldiers during war, concerns about mother’s health at home or finding some extra rations become the daily normal. Basically it is rare for people to note such change in their daily life except in exceptional circumstances, like going on holiday, going to war or, as in now the present case, a global pandemic.

A mother’s cry

Silent Cacophony sought to try and mimic the experience of sudden change. Anyone who has listened to the wailing of a mother on hearing of her child’s death will often say it is one of the most harrowing sounds that can be heard. Such a sound, which can only be truly created by such grief penetrates the consciousness as no other. The loud bang of an explosion, or the internal crunch of bones one hears when in an accident, offer very precise moments in time, an event few ever forget. These moments are so abstract to daily existence that it becomes a struggle to interpret, both internally within the mind and externally when explaining to others. The philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote of the silence of those who returned from the trenches of the First World War, they would not discuss the horrors, and took the experiences to their graves without ever sharing. The silence hides the trauma, almost a cacophony of competing thoughts, processes and arguments going on within the mind. Self-challenges, ‘could I have done more’, self-loathing, self-doubt and many other competing internal discussions churn over and over, days, weeks, years and too often for lifetimes.

‘Was it not noticeable at the end of the [First World] war that men returning from the battlefield grown silent – not richer, but poorer in the communicable experience?’ (Benjamin, 1990, 84)

Covid-19 abstraction

The world is now sharing a worldwide abstract experience, as if it is a global abstract art intervention in which everyone is a participant. In the UK at least, there is a resounding Silent Cacophony dichotomy. Street of cities and towns are in the most part silent, beyond birds and occasional distant vehicle, yet it can only be guessed at by us on the outside of hospitals the noise, bustle and horror that is occurring within those buildings.

As with war diaries, and with accounts of those who have experienced terrorist attacks, there is likelihood of some rearranging the pre-Covid-19 memories; money was not such an issue, there was enough food, actually the relation with father was OK. A gloss will be painted over the top of peeling flakes in hope it will deceive the eyes to the reality of these events, it will be the only way for people to restart their daily lives. However on a wider scale, a collective change is in motion and only time will be able to reveal what it will look like.


For me, I suppose, is that following this crisis more people will be willing (or able) to appreciate the importance of abstract art and performance, and the unique role it plays in preparing everyone for the unknown. Abstract art intervention events like Silent Cacophony seeks to safely challenge people to consider beyond the hamster wheel that we are all collectively engaged in turning, while rushing about in living daily life. Life will return ‘to normal’, however the normal will not be as it was. Only through reading, watching and listening to our words and actions pre-Coronavirus that we might be able to understand who we were then, as our own minds will distort the past, no matter how hard we try.

Coming of sound

My one forecast beyond this period will be the increase in those interested in sound, soundscapes, soundart and concepts of noise. When the planes begin flying again, people will notice the noise, it disruption to sleep, to conversation and to life – and this will lead to a fundamental revaluation. 

John M – 11th April 2020, Easter Saturday


Benjamin, Walter. (1990/1955) Illuminations, Ed. Hannah Arendt, Translated by Harry Zorn, London, Pimlico  


Does the name Haphazard Business seem less abstract than two weeks ago? The haphazard response to the Covid-19 epidemic around the world provides a stark reminder how quickly situations can change and the importance of being open and nimble when faced with sudden disruption.

Photo: Changing The Lightbulb | Four White House staffers huddle together pre-President Trump’s press briefing announcing paramount importance in observing social distancing. (Screenshot from YouTube, 27March2020, by John McKiernan)

What’s in a name?

The name Haphazard Business took several months to decide upon. It was essential to convey the precarious nature of all plans; no matter how well laid out they may be on paper. Planning is very important in creating any business or pursuing an idea, however it is also equally important to create contingency throughout, and be ready to abandon previously hard held views.

On setting out on this journey to create a hub, few understood why I chose this name, it made no sense as it is not selling anything and is abstract. Yet today, with the Coronavirus keeping more than half the World’s population on lockdown, does Haphazard Business seem less abstract?

Changing Tack

The Washington Post in mid-March ran a headline combining ‘haphazard’ and ‘helter-skelter’ when describing the White House early response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Helter-skelter is not in the Haphazard Business Glossary, although soon to be added, and refers as much to the rollercoaster ride we are all embarking upon as to the more recongnised meaning; “in disorderly haste or confusion.” (Google)

Jared Kushner’s ‘haphazard and helter-skelter’ coronavirus response revealed by The Washington Post (Raw Story)

Kushner entered into a crisis management process that, despite the triumphant and self-congratulatory tone of public briefings, was as haphazard and helter-skelter as the chaotic early days of Trump’s presidency — turning into something of a family-and-friends pandemic response operation.

The administration’s struggle to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak has been marked by infighting and blame-shifting, misinformation and missteps, and a slow recognition of the danger. Warring factions have wrestled for control internally and for approval from a president who has been preoccupied with the beating his image is taking.

Washington Post

Although the businessman within President Donald Trump has been pivoting wildly in the last few days of March 2020, as the full scale of the crisis and the impact on the US has become apparent, it was by all measures a slow response. His unwillingness to listen to the professional advice being offered may prove his downfall. His fixed mindset refused to acknowledge wider factors beyond his own experience, and can be a lesson everyone can learn from.

Post Covid-19 World

At time of writing, no one knows how this global crisis will play out. What is fairly clear already is that individuals, communities, business and the global economy are going to stumble out of this into a new World. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken dramatically, and business as usual cannot resume.

Haphazard Business was not a prophesy of impending crisis, it was and remains a blog to demonstrate the need for flexibility and to encourage expanding the nuance within an idea or project being pursued; the importance of being open, adaptable and accepting of change and challenge. Creative collaboration trumps the lone scientist (pun intended), as Walter Isaacson points out masterfully in his book The Innovators.

Going Forward

It might be difficult today to believe, as the death toll mounts, that we will come out the other side of this pandemic. It is imperative that those in a position of power, wealth and stability, as well as the visionaries, now step up to the plate with urgency and begin to shape the post Covid-19 World into something that is more equitable and empathetic than our recent past.

I have already set in motion the speeding up of my plans and these will be revealed over coming blog posts. Please feel free to comment below.

John M


Brigham, Bob. 14 March 2020, Jared Kushner’s ‘haphazard and helter-skelter’ coronavirus response revealed by The Washington Post, Raw Story, Washington, Online. https://www.rawstory.com/2020/03/jared-kushners-haphazard-and-helter-skelter-coronavirus-response-revealed-by-the-washington-post/

Washington Post, 14 March 2020, Infighting, missteps and a son-in-law hungry for action: Inside the Trump administration’s troubled coronavirus response, The Washington Post, Washington. Online.https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/infighting-missteps-and-a-son-in-law-hungry-for-action-inside-the-trump-administrations-troubled-coronavirus-response/2020/03/14/530c28b4-6559-11ea-b3fc-7841686c5c57_story.html?arc404=true


In this FT podcast, the director of UCL’s new AI institute, Prof. David Barber discusses the importance of interdisciplinarity, need for innovation and having a wider public conversation about AI and potential impact, as this technology begins touching all our lives. 

FT Podcast

AI Research and Big Tech, 19th December 2019

John Thornhill talks to David Barber, director of the UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence in London, about how academic researchers can work with business and the wider community to create the best outcomes for society. (FT)

Key points from the podcast in relation to creating an innovation hub…

AI Engineering

AI is now touching on all our lives.

We still don’t know how to solve AI, we are in the early years, no one really knows how it will play out, the key reason why there is need for interdisciplinarity in this area.

Bias, fairness, ethics are not mathematical questions, engineers are not the arbiters of AI, they will do what ‘society’ requires.

AI community is very pragmatic and will go with whatever works.  

Some old techniques, like semantic understanding and symbolic knowledge will re-emerge.


The major innovations we are likely to see in the nearer future include the self-driving car, automation in agriculture with intensive farming coming closer to city centres or/and having close connection to supermarkets.

Drones or robots will increasingly carry out delivery of goods and products, although this will still be difficult to achieve.

Academic Funding

The academic funding model is broken.

We will see increasing partnering with tech firms or private companies.  

Universities remain highly relevant, although scattered public funding can make research very challenging.

Many academics are straddling working for tech giants while keeping a university post.  

There is a real danger more academics and university projects will just be scooped up by tech giants.  

This poses a risk, as most of the key developments should not be in the hands of big firms, they need to be shared.  

Global View

The East has a more collective view to the world, working for society as a whole compared to the West’s more individualist outlook, and protection of rights and freedoms.  

These freedoms could come at the cost of advancement.

Because of this, China is leading world in application of AI.

For example payment systems in Europe; there are still many people suspicious of paying with a credit card, or insist on cash only, where as in China many citizens pay with their phones, and could soon be paying with just their face.

A big cultural distinction is that China’s population is more receptive to new technologies, whereas in the West it is more difficult, and this makes access to the data in Europe more difficult.

Knowledge Quarters

Kings Cross knowledge quarter is developing, creating a concentration of knowledge and diversity, although there needs to be more on the innovation rather just focusing on the corporate sector.  

We need more innovation from the start-up level across the UK, which can scale and grow to significant size, rather than just being gobbled up by tech giants.

There is no scale-up infrastructure in UK.

Need for Interdisciplinary within AI 

There is need for wider and more inspiring conversations around AI.

The AI for People and Planet institute will be holding events on how AI and Art can play an interesting role and create synergies.

AI research and big tech (FT)

A weekly conversation that looks at the way technology is changing our economies, societies and daily lives. Hosted by John Thornhill, innovation editor at the Financial Times.