I wanna tell you a story…

[pullquote]”We are fictional characters in stories of our own invention.”[/pullquote]

Intriguing? I got my first email from the course team for Future Learn’s “The mind is flat: the shocking shallowness of human psychology” MOOC, starting 4th November. Links were provided to a specific introductory document and an on-line library, for reading around (if desired). They even provided a hashtag! #themindisflat There is already plenty of Twitter activity and contacts are being made.

At this stage all I can say about The Mind is Flat is that the statement does not surprise me. I am already aware that Truth is an awkward concept and a slippery little beggar. I know that I construct my life stories, and I retell them to myself with differing backgrounds and personae. I have been heard to say on many occasions that what is True of me today may well not be true tomorrow. So, I am hoping that I have a handle on it. I am looking forward to this course very much and if you are as intrigued as I am, then why not sign up and join me. It is a 5 hour commitment, for 6 weeks. Best of all, it’s FREE!

(c) Banksy
(c) Banksy


The Secret Power of Brands began yesterday and I devoted my afternoon and much of my evening to it. I scored 15/15 on the self assessment test at the end. Go, me.

I now have some idea of the presentation style of these MOOCs – assuming that they are produced to a standard.

The course became available with the first week’s material. It now shows up as so on my list of courses, together with Start and End dates.

© Copyright 2013 FutureLearn
© Copyright 2013 FutureLearn


A navigable course calendar with the current position highlighted  shows the future weeks but only a summary preview is available at present.

© Copyright 2013 FutureLearn
© Copyright 2013 FutureLearn

There is also an indicator of how much time remains for the current period of study and a summary of what will be studied.

© Copyright 2013 FutureLearn
© Copyright 2013 FutureLearn


No more pictures: I think the above screen shots are “fair usage” but the remainder would get me into copyright hot water. So, no actual content will be shared!

This week’s page is a To Do List, with 12 activities, of which 11 and 12 are a self assessment test and a preview of week 2, respectively. Each item links straight to the activity: five of the ten activities are marked as Video. There are also Article, Audio, Slideshow and Discussion activities, though all activities have a Comments structure, where discussion is actively encouraged. Overall, the presentation seems very suitable for students who do not enjoy reading and/or writing – or for students whose mother tongue is not English. Videos and audios are sub-titled for accessibility.

There is a button to mark each activity as completed. This changes the colour of its bullet in the To Do list. My only criticism (and I know that this matter is already being addressed) is that the To Do items do not have an individual time allocation attached.

The pace is gentle and the progression is logical – the week’s programme is well constructed.

The course info suggests that students should allot 3 hours a week for this module. Interestingly, for the very first time in my independent study life, I almost certainly spent considerably more time than was suggested. Having got through my OU degree on only a small fraction of the time suggested necessary, this comes as something of a shock. Has my brain petrified? Well, yes, I am certain that it has, but I think the real reason for the time spent is in reading and participating in the discussions following each activity. If this pattern continues, I shall have to moderate my participation in line with the number of concurrent courses under study.

I am impressed. It is all very slick and polished. An agreeable number of students are active in the discussions – this has not always been the case in my experience of online courses. The course is perhaps the wrong one for me. I am so very unaware of Brands and lean strongly towards being  an anti-consumerist (is that a proper word?) I shall stick it out – perhaps I can bring a different perspective to discussions – but at the moment it freaks me out to see individuals claiming that by wearing a particular brand of clothing, it makes them feel more stylish and successful. It confounds me. How can that be so? What kind of folk are these?

We do not have TV, nor do we take a newspaper or any general magazines – Mr L subscribes to a railway modelling mag, but I’m not sure that it counts in this context. I live on a small island, with no billboards, no cinema.  I am not exposed to advertising (I deploy Adblocker on my computer, so even Google and Facebook cannot reach me). There are no Brands here, unless we count “Sinclair’s” – the local name attached to practically any service you may think of. Brand rarely comes into it when shopping at the local stores. There is not that much choice and most things appear in just the one brand name. We buy what we need and the decision is rarely based on label. Frankly, many of the Brands that I saw mentioned in discussion yesterday mean nothing to me at all. What is a Prius car? and who are Hollings and what do they sell? And, blimey, are Primark really that big now? The last time I shopped in a Primark was in the very early Eighties – or possibly the late Seventies. I haven’t even seen a branch of Primark since then – I only ever knew the one, in Darlington.

It occurs to me, having been taxed to look at the Brands around me, how few there are that are visible in Orkney. When I go shopping, my first stop is at the local butcher’s, for meat and fish.  OK, my next stop is a big one, at Boot’s the Chemist, before heading off to a local wine and cheese shop for the essentials of comfortable living. Thence to a local grocery/hardware shop, where I purchase my wholefoods and ethnic food items and any household items I might need. On the way, unless we count Banks and Building societies – the only well-known Brand names that I see are the Co-operative stores, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Mackays (except I think they have rebranded as something else these days? I don’t know, I never go in.) Oh, and the local shop RA Finn’s sells Body Shop stuff (alongside knitwear, yarn, wine and beer brewing equipment and gifts.) Lidl and Tesco are big exceptions and are outside the town centre. I call there last to buy what I have not managed to find in town and cannot source here on the island – mainly interesting fresh foods, fruit and veg and salad, and any really good bargains. A BOGOF label is far more important to me than any brand label.

Brands are not big in Orkney. Even if we consider the local stores as brands, they are so very confused – like the Finn’s example. How about a store that sells prams and babywear etc, alongside whisky and wine and scented candles… yes, we have one of those. A jeweller’s that also sells kitchenwares – yep. The aforesaid seller of wholefoods and household goods has everything from seeds and plants to coffee pots to fishing rods to solid fuels and Christms trees, as well as my supplies of organic jumbo oats.

It’s all as mystifying to visitors as the outside the big bad commercial world of brands is to me.

It’s going to be an interesting journey, that’s for sure.

If you will excuse me, I have lunch to prepare. It’s soup today – not Heinz, not Campbell’s, nor even Baxter’s – it’s unbranded and made by my own fair hand. The bread to go with it isn’t Hovis or Mother’s Pride or Warburton’s, it too is  Beth’s Best.



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