Go Ask Siri About Mr. Selfridge

I’ve been watching “Mr. Selfridge on PBS.” Less popular than Downton Abby, “Mr. Selfridge” chronicles the life department store brought from those cheeky Yanks over to Britain and turning shopping on its ear.  It’s part of “The Masterpiece Classics” on Sunday night.


Jeremy Piven’s manic, ever-smiling, frenetic-talker character annoys me until he grew on me.  I had to do a little research.  Yes, there really is a Selfridges department stores; the first in England, founded in 1909, and still the second largest chain of department stores in the UK.  Yes, H. Gordon Selfridge did come from Chicago where he worked his way up the ladder at what is now Marshall Fields.  And yes, he really was exuberant to the point of exasperation.  That’s not the part about “Mr. Selfridge” that most intrigues me.

Selfridges changed the way women shop by putting the merchandise out for everyone to see, touch, and smell.  Before Selfridges, garments were tailored, shops were boutiques, and shopping was a chore.  Mr. Selfridge brought together shopping, dining and entertainment.  Choices became available.  Sales.  Shopping became fun.  It seems like a little thing, now, but a crazy business model, doomed to doomed to failure in 1906 England.

Mr. Selfridge also encouraged career growth for all of his employees, which was a new concept for women.  Although he paid them little, Mr. Selfridge garnered loyal employees.  He supported the Sufferage Movement movement.

You could say Mr. Selfridge changed the world when he brought the idea of “the customer is always right,” and “shopping should be fun” to Britains. That got me thinking.  At about the same time, the bicycle became a common way for women to get around, the idea self-determination, rather than a class dominated society gained momentum.

That got me thinking.  What innovations and conveniences in my life made, or might make, an impact on the future?

There are some obvious ones because the impact is already felt:

  • Birth control pills and other forms of reliable birth control yielded delayed marriages, women’s careers outside the home.  This in turn, led to more involvement of fathers in child-rearing and home chores.
  • Disposable diapers yielded less laundry time for mothers, less diaper rash, and delayed potty training, plus landfills with diapers that will take a hundred years to decompose.
  • Computers gave us a man on the moon, took away secretarial pools, gave us the ability to communicate around the world, and carry our world in our pocket.  There’s hardly a reason to learn spelling; spell-check can do that.
  • Satellites gave us 24 hour as-it-happens news, allows us to track and predict weather more accurately.  With satellite technology, we explore space, track melting of the polar ice caps, and find our way around town.

Then there is a smaller one, one that started out to improve personal security; one that changed movies, photography, communication, and how we interact with each other every day, and even how we dress.  The cellular phone; specifically the smart phone.  Here are just a few of the ways the smart phone changed our lives:

  • Movies:  no longer can a phone line be cut in a thriller; everyone has a cell phone.  Several not-so-old movies are obsolete ( “Play Misty for Me” 1971,  “Phone Booth” 2002, “The Birds” 1963 )
  • Photography:  Now the camera feature on a smart phone is more of a selling point than the communication features.
    Video and camera features on cell phones make even the most mundane pictures mindless to take.  Doesn’t turn out like you hoped?  Delete.  No problems.  Take pictures of raindrops, feet, funny faces, birds, ears.  Capture where you parked with a quick click.  I see friends and family from across the country, shared with a click in almost real-time by Videos and photos.  In the old days, I had to order re-prints and wait a week or more.


  • Rote memory is no longer required.  If I need to know a fact, such as what is the traditional meaning of a red rose, I just ask my cell phone.  I don’t even need to know how to spell.  I can ask questions verbally.  A drive in the countryside, our minds wander and wonder, and Loved-One is asking me to ‘look that up.’ I can learn how to do almost anything on YouTube.  A teacher told me that a student learned everything he needed to know about photography on YouTube.  He creates incredible award-worthy photos.
  • Navigation is by GPS.  Recently, a friend saw my atlas in the trunk of my car.  “I’m surprised they still make those,” he said.  I still like the special orientation a map provides, but the GPS gets me where I need to go.  It used to be getting lost meant stopping at a gas station for directions.  Now it’s the GPS telling me to get back on course.  An added bonus or detriment depending on how you look at it:  you can and your phone can always be traced.
  • I can communicate with everyone I know, some people on the other side of the world, who I know only virtually, and with people close to me.  Bandwagons can be built and jumped on overnight.   This is used in extraordinary ways like anti-bullying campaigns, and in horrendous ways like fake Facebook accounts designed to humiliate a romance gone awry.
  • Yes, the smart phone changes how I dress, too.  Leaving the house means taking my phone with me; it’s part of my attire.  I can no longer depend on a payphone nearby, or even the kindness of strangers to help a damsel in distress.  Everyone is expected to have at least a cell phone, most have a smart phone.  Even the homeless have cell phones.  I must have a place to put my phone, purse, pocket, or belt clip.  Somewhere that is discreet and/or figure flattering.

Just as Mr. Selfridge had a vision and a plan to bring shopping to the masses, Steve Jobs had a vision that everyone would carry a computer in the palm of their hands.  My dad, who worked for Bell Telephone two generation ago, told me that Bell’s “big audacious goal” was to give each child born a phone number as part of our identity, and  we would all carry our phones with us wherever we went.  Just as Mr. Selfridge’s dream built on other technology of the era, so does smart phone technology. Mr. Selfridge’s dream helped change the economy and the social system.  The same is happening with Mr. Jobs and the Bell Telephone’s dream.


What innovation do you see now that have the potential to change how we think, live and interact with each other?

(In case you’re wondering: No one but me sponsored this blog post.)


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