We continue our interview with Edwin Mingard, co-founder of satellite, which produces work that embodies three values, high-quality drama, social engagement and experiments in process and output.
You were talking about how many people stick to the norm in terms of work and I was wondering if we went back to what a previous generation would have seen as the norm as young people’s expectation of getting a stable job, getting a house, getting married and having kinds. A lot of things are almost impossible for young people to get. You made the choice in terms of a career that you would never have a stable job. How does that expectation shape other expectations you have about life?
I never wanted any of those things at all. In fact, many of them I actively sought to avoid, and that’s not to degrade their value.
I have close friends who want, and deserve to have, all of those things and the fact that promise is being taken away from them is really bad.
But I think in many ways in terms of a coping mechanism with uncertainty, I was just lucky, as I didn’t want those things from the start, so when I read things about how difficult it is to get a mortgage, I don’t want a mortgage.
It doesn’t undermine the fundamental position that someone who wants that should have access to it, but I’d say above that there’s a more general idea of a more stable living environment and of basic food and services. Those things do affect me in the way they affect anybody but that very traditional route, I never wanted it.
Do you have any expectations at that level that feel natural and instinctive?
I don’t have any expectations at all around life plans and my future chances at achieving any goal I might set yourself. I think it’s unwise to have those. There are things I definitely want to achieve but I never formulated expectations around them.
Often people’s work situation – where they live, what they do, what networks they have. Does your approach on how to make a living – has it affected your attitudes on other areas?
The way that I work, the strategy has a social focus and that applies to other areas of my life. I feel quite empowered that if I want to do something I can make it happen.
Not that I would be successful, but that I have the capabilities at least to have a go at that, and I see a lot of people who are much more talented than me who clearly don’t feel that way and that’s clearly very sad. It would be hard to say which one influences the other.
Regarding people who have completely different life or career trajectories: I’ve met people who do jobs which I would do virtually anything not to end up doing, who still do cool things, like start a project in their community for local kids. For me, that jars a bit.
I remember somebody I was talking to who was working for a big bank which has money invested in programmes doing horrific things in the developing world and he set up a project for kids near where he works.
He could stop doing both of those and his net effect on the world would be positive, because one is great but the other is so bad. So maybe it’s not pathological.
So you need to practice your values whether it’s what you’re paid to do or a hobby?
Absolutely, that really hits it. You don’t have people who are colleagues and people who are friends. They can sit anywhere on that spectrum.
That helps explain what you were saying about networks. Often people will say these are my social networks and here are my professional networks with people whom I have to work with or network with to get ahead. So the idea of networks is more fluid?
Definitely, to the point where it almost doesn’t exist. There are people who are friends of mine who have nothing to do with what I work on. I will still feel free to call on them for a favour on a project I want to run if they have free time or I know that they’re interested in it.
Maybe that’s not that radical. If you go back 20 years ago, if you worked in an assembly plant, all of your friends might well work there and live where you live in the local town. Your work and your social network would have been the same.
Politics at that time was much more driven by your networks in the workplace – it’s how the trade unions started out. With what you’re describing, practising something that’s socially engaged feels more natural and there isn’t the need to completely change your mindset. For the person you talked about working in a bank, that must be really difficult. From doing something destructive to doing something good. Do you think people have to settle for any job, even if it goes against their values? Does that mean they’re doing to be less engaged socially or even politically, because there’s such a chasm?
It’s hard to tell. It’s the feeling that you should do something. It’s going to take place where you bump up against problems in the real world.
Say you’re working for a company, whatever the flavour, doing something really terrible at any particular time. Even that will make you ask questions, if you’re doing it in your workplace.
People I’ve come across at university, as teenagers they’d been on a protest and now they’re working for a big bank. Those things really jarred with them.
Maybe the person I was talking about was doing all this cool stuff, because he was aware of the damage he was causing through his work. It’s the wrong strategy as it compartmentalises your life so much from the most trivial to the most fundamental, you’re following a path so your wires don’t get crossed.
You’re going to come up against problems you can’t solve, because you’re somebody else’s employee. You don’t have the agency, even if you have the money.
There are lots of issues around that. You have a problem in terms of making judgements. When I was at university, a sociology lecturer who had studied in the US where there’s a massive obesity problem told us about how he’d see people who would eat supersized fast food meals but would buy diet coke. He asked them why they always bought diet coke, and they said they were on a diet.
That compartmentalising means people can’t make judgements, and can harm their ability to make a net positive impact on the world. If you work in a big bank and buy fair trade coffee, you might as well not buy fair trade coffee as it won’t make a net difference.
Being open to the different networks and just seeing them as one, you could argue that teenagers find that natural before they’ve gone into the world of work, in terms of how they communicate online. Do you think as a result, there’s going to be more of a trend, through those people treating their professional and social networks as one or will it still come up against organisations that constrain them?
In terms of teenagers, it’s hard to know what people will do and what’s the right thing to do. A lot of friends of mine work in technology companies because of a culture imported from the States, where they really try and provide you with a holistic experience.
They’re not just your employer; your boss also wants to be your friend on Facebook and in the office. And there’s a free smoothie bar and they do fun things on Friday. That’s preferable to working in a factory and leaving work knackered and with less pay.
On the other hand, you’re also giving up something. If you own that decision over merging work and social life, that can be an incredibly empowering thing. But if you start to rely on the same structures for your friendship as the structures you need to get paid, you’re really in the **** in a way that you’re not if you can assert some ownership over that.
So it’s hard to know what people will choose. If you’re younger now and make those mistakes earlier on, say you put a photo somebody shouldn’t have seen online, for example, and the lesson is learnt when you’re very young. People will probably navigate those things very well as they’re able to share that information with their peers.
There are platforms you can use where somebody else is paying for it. Someone once said “If you’re not paying for it, you’re probably the product”. If you own that kind of stuff, you can shape how it gets used and I think that’s the same in the offline world that if you’re reliant on someone for everything, then you’re losing control of a very important part of yourself as a person. And I’m sure younger people can navigate through that better than I would or even could.
Edwin Mingard is co-founder of satellite. Satellite was established in 2011, to produce work that embodies three values, high-quality drama, social engagement and experiments in process and output. Satellite recently delivered our first funded short, The Turing Test, supported by NFM and the BFI.
Alongside this, satellite has produced a small slate of experimental short films and music videos, developing new techniques that will feed in to future work. It is currently developing a slate of new projects, including shorts and features.
Edwin studied philosophy at the LSE, and is a Fellow of Teesside University’s Digital Cities programme. His work has been commissioned by the BFI, RSA, Northern Film+Media, Film London and many other bodies, including academic institutions, public and independent arts organisations and festivals. In 2012 he was shortlisted for a Cinereach Award.
He curates and programmes film and experimental music, both independently and for organisations and festivals. He is a published photographer and illustrator, although he really just does these things for fun.