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5 minutes |  Language |  social media | Britiron 

I’ve seen some awful, awful behaviour on social media recently. I’ve been on the sharp end, too. I understand that human beings want to disagree about things. That’s survival instinct. But the intrusive nature of social media – the ability to be abusive, anonymously – well, we really have metamorphosed into a rather nasty species, haven’t we.  

Apparently, by attending an Event at which events of the Second World War were discussed, I was a you-know-what and should **checks notes** prepare myself for a death worse than drowning in a cesspit. Words to that effect. I found it hard to tell, what with the spillings and all. Oh, well. I had a good time at the Event, and hate-crimes in my DMs makes a change from the appearance of limp appendages, I suppose.


This week, a Person of Repute asked, “Is social media healthy, is it fair, and does it breed deceitful commercial and political stratagems?” To which I answered, no, no, and yes. I was vehemently agreeing. But while I also disagreed on a fundamental point, tried using a motorcycle analogy to explain it, and remain unaware if it made sense – the little grey cells were fizzing. This was the analogy: some might say, from the mid 70s onwards, the Japanese motorcycle industry did a good job of putting Britiron out of business. Others might infer it was the inability of a fragmented and quite frankly war-battered, two-wheeled manufacturing ecosystem to coalesce around the need for industry-wide improvements in standards; efficiency as a core component in manufacturing itself; and a more in-depth understanding of its audience’s requirements that led to Britiron’s demise. Which is broadly true, but it’s definitely not the whole story.

Take a step back for a second, to an earlier admission of superior technology. For the Second World War-afflicted, the image of Steve McQueen is anathema. The film is be-loved, but there’s an acknowledgement that celluloid was papering over some large cracks in reality. Paul Brickhill’s book was, to be fair to him, less entertaining, but it did have one squinting eye on some degree of integrity. Still, it’s McQueen on a Triumph TR6 Trophy that people think about.

That’s the thing, that’s the extension of the thought process that mithered me earlier, rumbling on about the Japanese motorcycle industry. That irony makes me ask, is innovation our enemy, or is it our red-hot-poker-prodding-complacency friend?

See, you have to admit it was fortuitous that, of all the bikes in the German hinterland, McQueen found the one and only British-made bike with a full tank of rationed fuel, carbs primed, warmed-up and ready to go. Or was it. Not really. In the same way Japanese manufacturers took the edge off Birmingham’s business, McQueen knew German bikes were distinctly less reliable than British machines. He fancied his chances with Triumph. He knew we’d upped our game.

Thanks to the war-driven focus on mass-production, we did lose 300 or so small motorcycle companies and car manufacturers between 1938 to 1945. Quintessential marques vanished. Small production runs and non-functional elegance disappeared. Character-building engines and bomb-proof bodywork became the norm, as chassis-engineering was fuelled by the need to reduce each vehicle’s weight, optimise limited natural resources, and develop a superior mobile fighting force. Manufacturers were conscripted for their immediate suitability to the military demands on their order books. Unfortunately, to maintain the fluidity of those production runs, every smaller marque ended up fighting against a tidal wave of contenders for the same, scarce parts. The conclusion for many businesses was that they quickly priced themselves out of manufacture – war had demanded the expansion of our automotive industry through need, but it also forced a decline through pressure. Little wonder, the word ‘reliable’ became associated with dogmatic attitude: determination to use not only what was at hand but to also develop an ingrained resilience. The result? Technologically superior automotive capability, on two lovely, lovely wheels.

The reality is, if the Germans hadn’t invaded Poland, then the British motorcycle industry (the car factories, and military vehicle facilities), would not have been duty-bound to make economical mass-production their goal and reliability their primary concern.

Only by being presented with something heinous, were we prompted to take remedial action. In so many ways, it’s a crying shame we didn’t do it faster and maintain that momentum – HENCE, JAPANESE INVASIONS – but still. You’ve got to admit, butterfly theory is a doozy, as that innovative twist puts more new spin into the continuum (the other being McQueen, doubling as the role of a German outrider, at the same time he was biding his time undercover in a nearby ditch).

Could we not pitch social media as a similar, societal paradox? By enabling the masses to surface their whimsy 24/7 on what amounts to digital chip paper – surely, we are making unwieldy progress towards a time when we will communicate more effectively, because, emerging from a cesspit of rotting, fetid, mis-spelled word salad, we want to?  

Answers on a postcard please. Prefer that to the DMs.