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At the turn of the millennium, ITV,
one of the major British TV channels,
decided to call the year 2000 their Year of Promise.
They held a massive telethon, the Day of Promise,
not to raise money for charity,
but to get people to call in and promise... something.
What we want you to do is: we want you to make a promise.
-- And by doing that, you'll make a mark in history. -- Absolutely.
The promises would be held forever, they said,
in registers held up and down the country --
and if you paid ITV some money,
your promise would also be permanently inscribed at a historic site somewhere in the UK.
Historic like the East India Dock basin, here.
A few years later, and there's almost no sign that this ever happened.
But to tell the truth,
I could have said that in 2002 or 2003.
The public didn't care about the Year of Promise,
and ITV abandoned the whole scheme as soon as they could.
At least, as soon as they could without losing face.
The Internet Archive has most of their web site,
and the National Library of Scotland seems to have the only available copy
of a CD with all the promises on -- but that's it.
Some of the benches and monuments that are inscribed with promises still exist, like this one...
but a lot of them have been destroyed or moved in renovations or just weathered away over time.
Despite the millions that ITV spent on trying to leave a mark on history -- their words,
not mine --
the promises have been almost forgotten.
Designing something to last is incredibly difficult,
even if it's not just a publicity stunt.
But here's the thing: it might not matter.
Research has proved an old urban legend:
that writing down a goal or a promise makes you significantly more likely to do it.
It helps if you tell someone else,
it helps if you get it engraved on a monument somewhere.
But just the act of committing to something in writing,
even if you're the only one to see it,
means that your human desire to stay consistent,
to stay true to what you think your beliefs are,
makes you more likely to achieve it. Or, at least,
more likely to say that you've achieved it
when a researcher calls and asks you about it later.
So I don't know if Kay O'Grady really did overcome OCD,
or Susan Moussa really did learn first aid.
And perhaps the money that ITV spent on their ill-fated Year of Promise
could have been better put to other things.
But I'd like to think that all the promises, all the commitments,
really did do some good in the world.
Even if no-one actually remembers them now.
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