In the wake of the senseless murders in Orlando, Florida, USA and in Batley, Yorkshire, UK this week (June 2016), some thoughts on how society has lost some vital connection, as I write my book on Social Health Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in the Age of Overload.

“He had nothing to do and nowhere to go. He had no friends. Nobody cared about him. Neither did he” – The Unknown Citizen, Tony Parker[1]

Can you let me in a little bit, just a little?” The person asking the question has neat features in a strong face which has lived eight decades. She is Naomi Feil, a German-born American-raised social worker. She has a steady gaze and voice and bright eyes, and is leaning towards another woman in her eighties whose eyes are closed, her face slack and silent. “When people are old and deteriorated and no-one speaks to them they will withdraw more and more” says Feil of her work. “Then the desperate need for connection is all now inside”.

Naomi Feil is talking to Gladys Wilson who lives in a facility for elderly people with dementia who are labelled ‘non verbal’. She us using the method she has devised, called Validation, to bring ‘communication through empathy’ to ‘step into their shoes’ for cognitively impaired individuals. The work is startling in both its intensity and its effect. Gladys is rocking her hands with an unfocused movement.You can see the institutional blue plastic of a chair peeking through a pretty crochet blanket which is full of soft pastels: pinks, soft green, yellow. The purple in the blanket picks up the colour of Gladys’ jacket under a crisp white shirt, but everything else about her has no colour, and is crumpled and sad. “Are you crying?” asks Naomi gently. “I can see a tear.”

Gladys and Naomi are of similar age and look like they might have had similar strong features when young: clear clean skin – white for Naomi and caramel for Gladys, and beautiful expressive lips. Naomi talks firmly and softly to Gladys but it isn’t her words which you notice. It is her hands. They are gently touching Gladys just by her ears, stroking the sides of her face. “every cell remembers this is how they were touched as an infant by their mother” she says. Her face is level with Gladys’ and perhaps fifteen inches away. “You’re very sad” says Naomi. “Can you open your eyes just a little and see me?”. The eyes, which are wilted with inner neglect, open a tiny peep and look out. They meet Naomi’s steady gaze and immediately Gladys’ hands start to slap the arms of her chair. At the same moment, Naomi starts to sing. “Jesus loves me, yes I know. For the Bible tells me so”.

Gladys’ hands start to thump the chair more strongly, so Naomi raises her voices and sings the Christian hymn louder and faster. She calls this direct mirroring behavior ‘exquisite listening’. At this moment both women are locked in an identical communication with each other. All disparity has disappeared. They are fully connected in this moment.

Naomi now leans right in. Her nose is nearly touching that of Gladys, their strong aquiline features a reflection of each other, a symmetry. Then Naomi changes song. “He’s got the whole world, in his hands, he’s got the whole wide world….” She sings and she pauses a tiny beat, knowing instinctively what will happen. Gladys, half blind, mute woman incarcerated by isolation finishes the chorus and softly whispers “in his hands” back at Naomi.

“Do you feel safe?” asks Naomi gently, still holding her face, still looking close as can be into her eyes. Then she states it. “You feel safe”. Gladys says a word. Her mouth opens wide, her remaining two teeth shine white as her shirt and she speaks, probably for the first time in many, many years. “Yeah” she says quietly.

What drives the human being more than anything, what arguably lifted and drove us from the swamp to the skyscraper in 100,000 short years started with the tools of fire and cooking pots and grew with the ability to communicate through stories and language, through touch and tenderness. We are social souls. We advanced our tools of civilisation with cooking, culture, cities and faith to leapfrog over our evolutionary competitors. Modern civilisation relies on a set of increasingly sophisticated systems  but we only need one outcome: to preserve this essential social DNA.

All human behaviour puts connection at its centre, with the exception of the people we call ‘inhuman’ – the handful of psychopaths and sociopaths devoid of sufficient empathy to function as we do, and to place connection at the centre of everything.

Were the murderers of scores of innocent people and a much-respected public servant psychopaths or sociopaths? Or did they live amongst us, undetected, disconnected? To paraphrase Arthur Miller: Are they All Our Sons?

[1] Tony Parker, The Unknown Citizen xxx

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Do not worry about overdoing the mince pies. Chances are you are doing something very healthy this month-long celebration of Christmas, a “festive Season” in which most of us get to come off social media more than usual and are forced to be actually social. Call it face-to-face in a Facebook Age. 

In April my new book about what I call Social Health will be published. Fully Connected: Surviving & Thriving in the Age of Overload looks at the whole business of connection and its discontents in modern society. In organisations, in culture, in everyday life.

Fully Connected takes as a starting point the idea that people, be they wearing professional, personal (or indeed party) hats in their lives, have far more coping strategies and tactics around physical and mental health than around anything to do with their connected health. We need a system, and that system I’ll be publishing, is Social Health.

But you can steal a march. Start by making an early 2017 New Year’s Resolution to treat your diary as your body and aim to control 80% or more of what goes in it….start to notice over Christmas who you see because you love them, or who you reconnect with because you like them, or who you meet who tells you something interesting and who you feel you trust. Start to think about what you do and don’t read, watch, hear, because you are overloaded. Start to think about ways you can bring some order to your department or organisation just like you do with any other kind of New Year’s Resolution.
And start, whatever you do, to get off Facebook, or ay social media you overly rely on as your main way of connecting to other people with for a bit. Never mind the echo chamber, the reinforcing of stereotypical ideas, the algorithm-chosen messages and advertisements. There is no substitute – and I mean no substitute, even if Skype is an adequate proxy when needs must – for face-to-face contact.

Using your 5 senses to smell, see, touch, taste, hear in the company of another person, other people, to experience them fully and not in 140 characters or in carefully edited picture postings, or any other kind of ‘sharing’. That is one aspect of Social Health.

Hexagon Thinking….coming soon in my book Fully Connected

This Christmas, this party season, whoever you hang out with, be yourself with them, not an off duty avatar. Bring yourself to the party and don’t overshare the pictures afterwards. In other words, be Fully Connected.

In the new year you can see where I will be speaking about the book on @juliaconnects on Twiter.

Good Health is good for you, we all know that. A quick high intensity exercise burst at the gym, or a run, or a good night’s sleep – these all do ourselves ‘ the power of good’. Up until the middle of the last century having good health really meant staying alive, and not dying young: the “Spanish Flu” pandemic 1918-19 which killed many more millions than the First World War itself showed how a common bug which has low mortality can rocket around a population weakened by poor nutrition, bad sanitation, the spreading effect of mass mobility and a factor like war. 

But in 1945 after the Second World War something changed. The UN was created and with it a new body, The World Health Organisation. They wanted to create a world which was healthy enough not just to survive life but to thrive in it. The original definition is interesting, not least because it still stands today:
“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of injury and disease”.

One word stands out for me: the word “social”. We have come a long way to understanding and practicing good physical and mental health and well-being, but social well-being? Today we have not just a physical obesity crisis – 20% of the world is on course to  be clinically obese by 2025 – but we have a different kind of crisis and deprivation: Information obesity, time poverty and network blockage. 

We are officially in the Age of Overload. Those in control of their schedules and diaries are regarded as infinitely richer than those who are not. Networks are for many people an overwhelming tangle comprising work-related and purely personal databases, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp in a permanent cacophony of addictive sharing rather than a set of trusted relationships who can guide us through the thickets. The MIT psychology Professor Sherry Turkle has written about how conversation is being sidelined by a new condition: “phubbing: the art of talking to other people but with your eyes on your phone”.
The modern fitness revolution was kick- started by the actress Jane Fonda in 1982 with her famous workout video. Something interesting happened the same year: TIME magazine named ‘The Computer’ as its celebrated ‘Person of the Year’. This year, next year, we need a new kind of fitness, one which has been made necessary by the very computerised technology which keeps us all connected – fully connected – all of the time.

We need to know how to switch off, how to manage information overload better, how to connect better face-to-face in a Facebook world, and how to build networks which are not a tangle of virtual tubes but real relationships. We can start with learning how to treat our diaries like our bodies – only putting something in which we feel is good and healthy for us.
Here, then, is my definition of a new kind of health: Social Health: “To maintain a balance of activity, mindset and connections which enhance well-being and productivity”. 

I’m writing what I hope will be the blueprint for Social Health in the home, the office, the corridors of policymaking. Our behaviours have changed substantially around physical and mental health. The next big push needs to be Social Health. 

“Fully Connected: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Overload” will be published by Bloomsbury early 2017.

Well, it’s been a busy year in the main day job. It’s the tenth anniversary of my company, Editorial Intelligence, or e.i. Back in 2005 internet had begun to transform ‘old’ media and no-one knew what was what was coming. No-one could have predicted the current state and if they had no-one would believe them. Twenty four hour TV was one thing: Mobile media intermediated by anyone and everyone was entirely another.

I cannot say I saw all of it coming but I did imagine some of it. I was coming to the end of more than a decade in PR and was thoroughly fed up of being ‘His Master’s Voice’  – although doing PR for Maya Angelou at Virago remains a highlight of my life, as was fielding calls from a then journalist Sebastian Faulks in a telephone box (a telephone box!) outside the white male Revd Toby Forward’s house in Brighton as he was about to unmask him as the anonymous Asian woman writer ‘Rahila Khan’. That was a story and a half. Sebastian was infinitely polite to me that day (“Julia, I’m afraid I am going to say that Virago has published a white man instead of an Asian woman. May I have a comment?”.

I always slightly revered journalists. I still do. In a free press you must have journalists who have the right to be wrong. Without a free press you lose the cornerstone of freedom itself. Journalists are supposed to be buggers of course. Good journalists do say ‘why is this bastard lying to me’ whether they do it online or on paper or on air. Good journalists mock and poke and insinuate and gossip, too. The public likes that (even if the subjects don’t always!)

Whilst I did not know what was coming for journalism (neither did journalism) I did have a strong instinct that news would become ubiquitous and that the stock would therefore rise of one type of journalist the public could not be: The longform Commentator. The one who sets out a view, an argument, an opinion over anything between 600 words and 1500 words or, as is the odd but interesting trend, ‘The Long Read’ we see not just in The New Yorker and LRB but in the newspapers themselves. Newspapers need renaming, of course: Comment is now threaded through them. The Economist, made up entirely of anonymous comment, is one of the major publishing success stories of the last decade.

So I have to say that instinct I had about Comment being important and likely to stay important, proved correct. Good to call it right in business when you always also call it wrong (at least I have done, many times over). My business has had many changes over the decade, is as much a content event business as an online publishing business, but it has always consistently supported Comment. The daily morning inbox

eiDigest which is free and which summarises UK Comment & Opinion has seen a spike in popularity this year: People are so overloaded they like capsule summary information more than ever. They like quick-read emails. Newsletters are back.

And the Comment Awards are what every industry needs: Their Oscars. I started them on a hunch 7 years ago and they work because we read great Commentators like familiar friends even when they are strangers. Good commentators define the day, the moment, they translate life. They may outrage us, infuriate, or make us feel they understand us because they explain so brilliantly what we think and feel too. Good journalists communicate with their readers. They criticise and critique this increasingly difficult complex, frightening, intense world and they never, ever bore.

Here is a snapshot of those Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards and some contributions at the end of 3 minutes from some of these Commentators, some of them whose writing is familiar to you I’m sure.

Ten years! Well, it is a nice round number. Ten is “a thing”. And I feel that so is ‘The Commentariat’, a phrase coined by the late great former Editor of The Spectator Frank Johnson but one we ended up bringing into popular parlance.

In 2016 I see ahead more comment, more narration, more explanation. The world does not draw breath and neither will the commentators.

 

In a week following the Paris attacks, when every State feels under threat from Islamic State and the whole question of national identity is under close scrutiny, I had the luck and the pleasure to be part of a very British experience: I went to Buckingham Palace to receive an an OBE.

This is not a discourse on the merits or otherwise of the Honours System. For those who disapprove, perhaps skip this until I return to my more familiar blog territory of networks etc. I had never given the idea of receiving one a moment’s thought until six months ago I opened an envelope so bland and brown I assumed it was a boring bill. The Prime Minister was minded, it said in a slightly tight-lipped way, to recommend me to Her Majesty The Queen to become an Officer of the British Empire. Would I, it enquired levelly, be inclined to accept? If so I should tell no-one, more or less swallow the evidence (very James Bond) and wait for it to become official six weeks later. 

Well reader, I did not hesitate. Yes, I had to tell my inner Imposter Syndrome Monitor to pipe down a few times but mostly I felt dazed that such an inauspicious start to my career thirty years ago this year had ended up here. A recognition I had not applied for. I set about planning what I would wear and who I would bring with me with the precision I brought to my wedding day.

WE IDENTIFY WITH IDENTITY

 I am now able to put ‘OBE’ after my name just as I put the prefix ‘Mrs’ in 2005 and ‘Professor’ in 2011 and the internal label of ‘Mum’ since 1998. The Indian Nobel Laureate and economist Amartya Sen wrote in  The Argumentative Indian that “each of us invokes identities of various kinds in disparate contexts. The same person can be of Indian origin, a Parsee, a French citizen, a US resident, a woman, a poet, a vegetarian, an anthropologist, a university professor, a bird watcher…”

The very plurality of British identity is on display writ large in the Honours system Investitures. Eighty five of us lined up by the Ballroom to receive medals for Services including “Festival Arts in the North East”, “Interfaith Relations in Merseyside”  “Tourism in Banffshire”, “Folk Music” ,”Heritage to the community in Fife” or in my case, “Business”. Highly decorated soldiers walked alongside council leaders, firefights, charity chiefs. The distinguished publisher Ernest Hecht was there and although we knew of each other we had not met. But everyone else was from a refreshingly wide British network of do-ers in society of one kind or another. It is not a tight network where everyone nods knowingly at one another (all the better for it, in my opinion) and not a lot of crossover before you meet briefly on a day such as this.

THE GREAT BRITISH CEREMONY

Before I went, I could not imagine it. Despite Central London being on understandable security edge, the policemen at Buckingham Palace flagged our car down to check for explosives before calmly waving us through to check our ID at the gate. “Who is the Recipient”? queried an officer. “Me” I said anxiously from the back. “Well, Congratulations” he said, and ushered through the arches, along the gravel, to park in the inner courtyard alongside the horse and carriages and cars.
One the one hand, it is terribly grand and imposing. Sofas are made of velvet and are six or seven feet long. Simply huge nineteenth century paintings with gilt edged frames line walls whose edges are broken up by twenty foot columns and the kind of ancient ceramic urn you beg yourself not to trip over. The Ballroom itself – complete with five members of The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of The Guard, Four Gentleman Ushers and the Corps of Army Music String Orchestra playing a medley of Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Purcell, Handel and, incongruously, Gershwin, is a bergundy-and-gold riot of royal spendour.

But the process itself is entirely ungrand, warm, friendly, human. The physical granduer and formal grandness – we stand for the senior member of the Royal Family, in this case HRH Prince Charles, whose entry and exit is bookended by The National Anthem being played –  is broken up by very bold stark organisational signs to cloakrooms which have been fashioned out of recesses whose walls are covered in priceless paintings. “Recipients” go one way up a big staircase and their family and friends go the other (you can take 3 people with you). 

There is an army of hospitality footmen, women with clipboards, reassuring sheaves of schedules and names, people in uniform to usher us fast through velvet-roped cavernous corridors with the kind of deftness which in itself is a British national treasure: top notch Event Management. Surely the TV  series “Behind the the scenes at Investitures” is not far off? 

THE COURTESY OF THE CURTSY

In an ante-room the marvellously imposing, jovial but deeply forbiddingly title Comptroller, Lord Chamberlain’s Office, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Andrew Ford, KCVO  brought us together to run through the order of play. It has a comic feel: Here was a six foot gentleman in lots of yellow braid and iron bits sticking out of the back of his shoes showing us how to walk, wait, bow or curtsy (basically a little knee bend which is OK going forwards but rather wobbly in reverse). He relaxed us and made soft jokes and  we tittered, but we also paid the kind of attention you would to John Cleese if he stared hard at you. 

STAGE FRIGHT

Then you are nearly on. The lapel pin they have pinned on you is checked by the side of the door looking out on to the room full of guests. A little tin marked ‘Anne’s spare pins’ is there whilst someone only called Melissa checks you are ready and as the person in front is presented, you step forward to a midway point in the room, feeling about as exposed and tense as it is possible to feel.

I remember once sitting on the floor at Assembly in primary school where I wasn’t the most popular and I wasn’t the most clever and I wasn’t the most comfortable and I heard my name called out in a raffle and had to get up and collect a beautiful bowl which sat on our kitchen table for the next thirty years. 
That moment came back to me today as I pushed myself forward, did the pivot and curtsy Sir Andrew Ford had taught us, and came to collect my award. My modern day raffle bowl. The convention is that they have a little chat with you as they pin the medal on and then when you see their handshake, it is your cue to go. Speaking into someone’s face while looking for their hand at the same time is like rubbing you head and patting your stomach. I had what I can only describe as a nice little chat with Prince Charles, and then I backed away, bobbed, and walk offstage feeling like I had run a marathon.

“Oh Congratulations” said a jolly uniformed person. And took my medal, unpinned it, and put it in the box where it will stay, a part of my Britishness, my culture, my identity – whatever that means.

  

I am not religeous but I don’t mind cherry picking from religeon when it suits me. Take Christmas, which I like a lot, even though I’m a (secular) Jew. Or take Shabbat, the technically religeous seventh day of rest embedded deep and far into the history of Jews, which I have adapted into a Friday-Saturday ‘Techno Shabbat’ on which I go offline for 24 hours and instead read, talk, be un-digital.

But over the summer, when so much closes for six to seven weeks (Schools, Parliament, even business basically shuts for at least a month) I thought of another observance, the Christian Lent: 40 days and nights of abstention before Easter. For most people this means a type of food, or alcohol. Often people say they go ‘dry’ during January for a similar reason: a detox.

So I’m taking the summer off social media. No daily, hourly, more than hourly updates on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, but a pause to get into a different rythmn, and to watch the world turn differently, without narrating it, illustrating it, instantly, or reacting to the ways other people do.

For During the 1920s and 1930s Jews in America campaigned for weekly Shabbat to become culturally normal. The ‘Shomer Shabbat’ movement was successful. Campaigners against 24/7 Sunday trading might learn from this campaign.

So I’m taking a leaf out of the book of my forbears and adapting it for the six-seven weeks before ‘term’ restarts.

I wish you a restful, low-to-no digital Summer. And yes, when I’m back online, I’ll be posting how I got on. 

 Julia

Networking is in season along with strawberries and sun. Apparently it is so on trend that many corporate seats at Wimbledon lay empty this year whilst everyone drank Pims and networked away from the nets.

NETWORKING FOR THOSE WHO DISLIKE DOING IT (THAT’S MOST OF US)

I have never met a person, myself included, who enjoys the idea of a gathering where you are expected to hurl yourself around room or an event like a tennis ball and scoop up networking points. Let’s face it, most people loathe the idea of networking but feel it’s something they have to do with a large numbing drink in hand.

Why is networking usually so difficult? Because it is associated with many subliminal cues which all scream Pressure, Pretence, Promotion. I said ‘associated’. Not ‘is’. Relax: Networking is none of these things. It doesn’t have to be. You just have to do it differently and disregard all the advice you’ve been given before.

The Americans, our allies in so much, are not our friend when it comes to defining networking. Americans think networking is about ‘working the room’ and selling. I think we British know that it can be different: More about making creative connections, showing your curiosity, and putting conversation at the centre of it.

HELP IS AT HAND (SENSIBLE ADVICE AT LEAST)

Here’s what to do as the endless Summer bashes continue. Britain is a networking nation underneath it all, but to do it well you have to be subtle and exert soft power and soft skills – not brash one upmanship. You don’t even need to be an extrovert to be a good networker. I promise you.

So here are my networking coaching tips for getting the ball in the net at this summer’s parties.

1) Read The Room

You can tell a bad event when seven people are hunched over a guest list cross-ticking and finding you an illegible badge with a pin in it. This signals that the event is badly thought out. Ideally you should be only going to events you actually want to go to because interesting people are speaking or people you like and know will be there, and you trust the organisation putting the event on. If you arive at a bad room you just have to wait a little longer to get to enjoy yourself without help from the host.

2) Come in to Land

When the captain tells you to fasten your seat belt you know that you might land smoothly and be off on the jetway fast or could circulate through bumpy cloud fora while: It goes with the territory on an aeroplane. Arriving at an event is similar: You are at the mercy of a number of unknown elements between being up in the air and down on the ground and if you expect uncertainty and transition you are likely to relax rather than brace for impact. Expect to feel a little bumpy and don’t panic. Cortisol levels will rise…..and fall.

3) Find a Foothold

That room or roofdeck can look big and scary and horrible unless you catch the eye of someone you know or someone friendly finds you. Do whatever you can to gain abit of safe perspective – watch from the corner of the room and watch of people and their body language and catch their signals. Are people in little cliques and clusters gossiping or is someone being brave, bold or friendly and catching your eye? Observe and gain confidence from the corner.

4) Make Big Small Talk

Never be afraid to say what you feel or think, even as an opening gambit: Everyone is a ‘blended’ self of professional and personal. The sooner you bring your true self into the room and the conversation, whether talking about world events or the weather, the sooner you will relax and be more likely to make a good connection. You don’t have to be a clever-clogs. Often the best connections happen when you keep the conversation very personal from the offset.

5) The Eyes Have It

Oh, the eyes. Look into the eyes of the person you have just met and you can see everything quickly. If they are shifting their glance or squinting, it tells you they are stressed or not yet relaxed or possibly arrogant and ‘closed’ at that moment. Give them the benefit of the doubt and try and connect with them with a bit of real conversation. Once their eyes settle on your face, they have your attention. Return the serve and volley a bit.

6) Business Cards etiquette:

Only offer your business card if you think you actually want to stay in touch with someone and only ask for it in return on the same basis. Do not refuse a card but do not ask/give as a matter of course: It is perfectly OK to have an interesting conversation and move on without exchanging cards. You are not actually in a quarter final.

7) Stay Polite.

NEVER look over someone’s shoulder elsewhere or give sense that you are ‘working the room’: pointless and rude.  If you decide it is time to move on be gracious, and tell them you are circulating and say goodbye kindly and nicely. Never give someone the impression you think someone else is more important: Everyone has equal value and if you forget that you are likely to miss out big time on some great intelligence or insight.

8) Enjoy the Moment.

And Finally…..A networking event is not an interview. It’s not an exam. It’s not a competition. And there is no such thing really as ‘a networking event’. It’s just an event. Don’t expect ‘results’. Just be in the moment and see if at the end you have had one really great, interesting, memorable conversation: That’s what success looks like, and it is what it feels like too: Real connection, not salesmanship or self promotion.

 If you find this advice helpful, print it out and stick it on your fridge ready for the next hot networking season: Christmas.

Julia Hobsbawm founded Editorial Intelligence (http://editorialintelligence.com) which runs a ‘Connection Concierge’ advice service for how to make your conference party or event better for your team and your guests: email kirsty@editorialintelligence.com for further information.

Just over a quarter of a century ago some big changes happened in culture. The movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ opened and word of mouth spread like wildfire, due to it’s risque and infamous ‘Orgasm Scene’ in which a young woman simulates having a climax in the middle of a packed deli in New York, prompting a middle aged woman to point at her and order from the waitress: “I’m having what she’s having”.

Sexual candour has changed in 25 years but so has much else. In 1989, when that movie was made, the Internet took it first steps out from the military and academic shadows into more public availability. Suddenly, the world joined the social era. The rest, as they say is history: the 1990s saw the arrival of 24/7 media, email, the World Wide Web itself, Google and this was followed in the noughties by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, all propelled by the advent of what is simply called ‘Mobile’.

Today’s When Harry Met Sally would obviously have its own Twitter campaign. Given that 6,000 tweets a second are currently being posted globally that is a lot of social sharing, and a lot of data. We are living in what the Oxford Internet Institute academic Professor Luciano Floridi calls the ‘4th revolution’ after Copernicus, Darwin and Freud, in which the world is dominated by ‘the infosphere’ or information and communications technologies (ICTs).
Britain is currently ranked 9th in the world by the World Economic Forum’s annual Networked Readiness Index’ which assesses how well 150 economies around the world leverage technology and networks to boost not just competitiveness, but wellbeing.
This is interesting because we cannot really understand the networked economy without looking at wellbeing, or a sense of well-ness and how the era I would describe as ‘fully connected’ impacts on this. As The Economist noted on 6th June 2015: “social integration is more important for well-being than income”.
Social integration in an era of social media has to be driven, I think, by a set of behaviours, a system if you like that I’m calling Social Health. In which we use technology to gather and spread information, but to support human activity on the ground, and to foster greater intellectual and emotional connection. Knowledge really is power. The ability to connect, to network, is powerful.
For instance, take a look at the UAViators, http://uaviators.org, the global volunteer network of professional civilian drone operators who band together over earthquake zones to pool data and hotspot knowledge; or the Minnesotian mixed-race Marnita Shroedl who styles herself as the ‘world’s first social capital incubator’ by connecting the powerless and the powerful in her community over dinner, literally, at her house http://marnitastable.org

The fully connected age is a social age but it needs to be more healthy than unhealthy. That means knowing when to disconnect, when to be offline, and how to curate what you know and who you know to avoid drowning in overload. 
Healthy practice takes time to develop and requires big cultural shift. Twenty five years ago many of us smoked, drank and had no gym membership or fitness regime. Now even in America, the cradle of the obesity crisis, over 50 million people are members of a health club or gym.

At the end of World War Two, on 22 July 1946, the World Health Organisation defined health for the newly free world for the first time as a state “of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity”. 

It is time to get our heads around social health and who knows, we may even end up having what she’s having. 

Julia Hobsbawm is Honorary Visiting Professor in Networking at Cass Business School, London, and Honorary Visiting Professor in Business Networking at UCS Suffolk. She is the founder of the knowledge networking business http://www.editorialintelligence.com. This article appears in the Editorial Intelligence tenth anniversary newspaper which you can download here: http://www.editorialintelligence.com/_uploads/index_44_3096290166.pdf
  

In the downtime of a national holiday comes a nanosecond of reflection. I’m reflecting on how hard it is to choose one option or another. It isn’t that I have too much time on my hands – would that the working professional has that – but that I, like all of us in urbanised, industrialised, technologised cultures are all experiencing a surfeit and excess of choice. 

I FRAPPUCINO, THEREFORE I AM

I watched a recent CNN documentary on coffee. You can take, for example the 87,000 different types of Starbucks coffee or “customisation journeys”. That is more variations on a theme of the simple coffee than there are actual Starbucks outlets  (if you don’t believe me, search just one, the Caramel Frappucino, and lose yourself not in calories, but options). Don’t like Starbucks? You are spoilt for choice now of big and small alternatives everywhere you look. 

Starbucks has invested in choice to keep customers. Customers think choice is  terrific. The market is asking for choice.

Want to pick a bunch of Spring daffodils? Go ahead, be my guest. Just take your pick out of 13,000 hybrids which are grown and available (listed in the helpful Daffodil Data Bank). Luckily, someone has curated that choice and that person is called a florist. But I confess to being spooked that there is that much choice and that much data around, well, a bunch of daffs. We need more and more curators and navigators in this world of choosing.

VOTE FOR WHOEVER TAKES YOUR PERSONAL CHOICE

In politics, in Britain, it used to be easy. You could vote for the typical independent candidate from the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’ or you could vote for the big guys: Labour or Conservative. All that changed in 2010 when the distincitly third party Liberal Democrats ended up forming a coalition government with the Conservatives. 

Did we get a taste for choice? Yes we did A number of factors, not least the popularity of Xenophobia and Scottish Nationalism has meant that now, five weeks ahead of a General Election, it is literally anybody’s guess who will be the winning party or whether they can govern without choosing minor political partners and being chosen in return. Last week were seven party leaders on national television instead of three.

Last week I was even invited to a meeting which purported to be the beginning of a new political party – the 

Women’s Equality PartySet up by a formidable journalist and writer, Catherine Mayer, #wepUK is supposedly ‘for everyone’ but come on, guys, or women, I think if it ever comes down to it the cross in the box is more likely to come from one gender or another. Why? Well if you were a bloke, what would you choose?

Choice is of course, good. But what does choice mean? Does having it mean things are going well or going badly? If the idea of a Women’s Equality Party is anything to go by, women don’t feel they have much choice. Or enough of it. Although oddly, women in public life and corporate life have risen to the top of the agenda in recent years (three of those seven party leaders are women). But of course women get the least political voice and provision overall. 

SUIT YOURSELF (AND WEAR A SUIT)

I know it is unfashionable to say women could learn something from men, but when it comes to choice, it turns out we can. A recent posting on Harpers Bazaar.com by its Art Director Matilda Kahl  declared that after years of wasting time trying to choose what to wear each day she made a decision: She followed the male dress code of a suit and bought exactly the same shirts and trousers so she would have restricted freedom to determine at work what women often celebrate most about their identity: Their clothes. She wrote:  “The simple choice of wearing a work uniform has saved me countless wasted hours thinking, “what the hell am I going to wear today?” And in fact, these black trousers and white blouses have become an important daily reminder that frankly, I’m in control”.

A First World Problem? You Bet. But those of us in work, in relative affluence, in hyperconnected overdrive crave simplicity, something being reflected in the movement to de-clutter, to simplify, to avoid what the writer James Wallman brilliantly describes as ‘Stuffocation’  http://stuffocation.org

NOT WAVING, BUT DROWNING

We are drowning in options, which I know is called freedom by another name. But freedom is getting fairly overwhelming right now. We need to declutter our own freedom before we burn out or tune out completely – or worse. Good tuneout is the rise in Mindfulness, in self-help to de-clutter and connect with what matters which generally starts with breath in the body.

But what about bad tuneout? I am thinking specifically of those who run into the arms of people who deny any choice at all. Fanaticism and religeous fundamentalism are no longer ‘ over there’. In Britain we are desperately trying to stop some of our own young people leaving our land of choice for lands with no choice or arguably hope of any kind. Is there a correlation between cultural choice – the clothes, the apps, the TV Channels which are excessive, and the lack of choice many people actually have in their lives – about how they live, how to get a job, which is making us spiral out of control in both directions?

Luckily we always have one choice which is cherished. What to think. Let me know your thoughts, please: @juliahosbawm or julia@juliahobsbawm.com 

 


What connects Ebola, SONY, Facebook, and coffee houses in 2015?

Civilisation and networks. How networks operate and behave define modern society. Networks on which we live, travel, connect, create, communicate and share are now embedded in every aspect of how we live, everywhere in the world.

In 1615 the precocious teenage painter Anthony Van Dyck painted ‘Portrait of a Seventy Year Old Man’ just as the culture of civilisation flourished in the new coffee houses of Europe: In 2015 we still will want to talk, share, exchange ideas, be culturally rich and diverse.

Except that this teenage century has unprecedented levels of technology which create epic levels of choice, volume, and a landscape which needs constant navigation and curation in order to simply understand.

A healthy person and society enjoys good physical health. Good psychological health. And good social health. Lonely? You don’t have good social health. Unable to get offline and meet people face-to-face? You are out of balance. Limited in your ability to filter information and know what is good and bad intelligence? Another kind of poverty.

All of this is what I call Social Health. Nearly fifty years ago the World Health Organisation identified health as being the triptych of Physical, Psychological and Social Health http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html. I believe that it is time we understood what ‘social wellbeing’ means in the context of modern networks, social networks, and a mobile world.

SOCIAL HEALTH and GENERAL HEALTH

Networks wind around us more tightly than ever before. As I said in the series of short programmes I made for BBC Radio 4 in 2014, ‘Networking Nation’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04l0gdl networks are everywhere.

EBOLA AND LIMITING THE NETWORK SPREAD OF DISEASE

We can see the patterns in how we live, work, socialise in network science, no more so than science itself. The spread of Ebola conforms to network science behaviour of the so-called ‘spreading rate’ and the exponential increase in hosts behaves just like an internet virus on another ‘free scale network’ http://www3.nd.edu/~malber/sem_un/Project%201/Ebola.ppt.

I gave a short presentation about Ebola and the spread of information and disease at WPP Stream in Greece which you can see here: Stream Global 2014 // Editorial Intelligence’s Julia …
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp5lP_kIvT8

Ebola is largely confined to Western Africa, where communities have had to adapt to a huge changes in behaviour in order to stop the spread: They have had to stop and limit physical contact.

The social impact on society in West African countries affected by Ebola – the devastation to the surviving communities – is far less publicised than the medical implications for the developed economies whose media focus on spreading fear of contagion.

SOCIETY AND THE HUMAN NETWORK EFFECT

The cognitive psychologist Professor Matthew Lieberman puts it so well in his stunning book, Social: Why We are Wired to Connect http://www.scn.ucla.edu – The human brain is fundamentally geared, anthropologically, to focus on connection and social relationships. If you diminish or kill the ability to make relationships you cause huge damage.

Humans build networks of relationships which all mimic the family, the closest human network bond. It turns out – research famously conducted by Professor Robin Dunbar – that far from human networks being as vast as social networks would suggest, they are in fact small: a nucleus of between 7 and 11 connections, rising to a maximum of 150.

So we need to rethink how we connect ands how we manage and absorb our networks in our increasingly blended work and home lives, if we are to successfully have good social health around these networks.

Part of this will mean letting go of the fantasy that having hundreds and thousands of friends, followers and connections is ‘better’ than having a few. What matters is reconnecting to the quality of relationships, not the quantity.

SOCIAL NETWORKS: KILL OR CURE?

To my surprise I found myself gravitating back to Facebook at the end of 2014, having spent three years happily tweeting on Twitter several times a day.

Something about Facebook attracted me. The postings were made by people I know, whose faces and voices I could recall. Being face to face in a Facebook world is something I have talked about before. I realise it matters when you use social media that you can summon up the person you are communicating with more often than not.

Mobile and technology social networks do mimic face to face connection well: Robin Dunbar’s research shows that people find Skype a good proxy when you are geographically far apart.

And I hear my youngest son on his headphones on the Xbox not just playing with someone he has never met but having a friendship with him: He recently asked if I could organise a meeting with this kid (to which I replied: “Only when I speak to his mother!”

But we know the dependence on networks, the alternative reality which intrudes: When hackers recently took down Playstation and Xbox causing ‘denial of service’ to millions of users connected to their networks it exposed a new reality in our lives: We are so dependent on networks that we mimic them: When they ‘go down’ we go down, unable to function or socialise easily.

PRIVACY and its PRIVATIONS

But network inflitration also causes problems, as SONY discovered, not so long after Edward Snowden revealed that the rest of us are monitored daily in ways we still cannot completely imagine.

I was just as keen as anyone else to pore over leaked emails showing just how venal and crass movie executives are when they think they are not being ‘overheard’ electronically. But of course what the intrusion of privacy represents is complicated and not at all straightforward.

In 2014 we understood that the price we pay for internet access and ‘freedom’ to connect on social media or use mobile phones is also intense surveillance. Getting that balance of personal privacy versus state security and commercial viability right will affect our discussions about networks and how much we want to be on them – or asked to be on them.

SOCIAL HEALTH AT WORK

We have a productivity crisis in Britain at work. This is partly due to to pure economics but it is also affected by behavioural economics. How people at work behave and absorb the tremendous changes and challenges of technology and the Social Age – and with it their Social Health – will affect the bottom line and with it workplace wellbeing.

As I wrote recently in HR Magazine, management attitudes to health and fitness need to change and absorb the latest thinking on social health and the ability to manage networks and knowledge and time effectively and efficiently http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hr/features/1148575/networking.

In 2015 we need to rebalance our use of networks and how we live on them.
Human behaviour, not technology, is often the central key to change. We need to look at our social health – our use of networks and our behaviour on them – as much as we do our physical and our psychological health.

In the meantime my recommendation is this: Get face to face with somebody and go and see some wonderful art. Be friends on Facebook with someone whose face and voice you recognise or get to know them. Focus on developing strategies for your social health as you head out, new year’s resolutions in hand, to that other place of health: The gym.

ENDS

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