I don’t know whether it’s the way news travels, but I have been feeling like there is a lot of bad news lately. 2016 started with more than just a bang. We have lost so many of our most loved actors, musicians and sports stars that it is difficult to believe. Every week there is something new. Last weekend media erupted again over yet another mass shooting in the states. Those people were just having a good time in a club. Then we had the sad news of Jo Cox’s death, just a local minister doing her job. Life seems fragile lately.
How is it that some people seem so disconnected from the rest of us, to be able to commit such acts of hate?
Losing common consciousness
In a world of ever more hectic communication, we are less connected to each other than we ever have been. We are getting lost in trying to find the right messages, or to give them in the right way. Through our thousands of digital channels, we no longer share a common consciousness. In the UK there were 4 TV channels until 10 years ago, now there are hundreds. Through Twitter, LinkedIn, and other ‘social’ feeds, we are both more connected, and less connected at the same time. Facebook and Instagram post perfect lives.
Remembering our likes
We must remember that google remembers what we like, that just by selecting your country on LinkedIn, you see specific feeds; that by visiting certain websites, advertising sites remember your preferences. We are at the mercy of groups. We alienate ourselves by accident. Your smartphone technology is capable of both helping and handicapping you. Keep pushing yourself outside the box to broader communication tools, follow those you like, but always question.
Connectivity and community
We are at more risk of cultural divide now than we ever have been. We have to do more to make sure that our connectivity doesn’t cost us our community. Communities online are not communities in real life. They will never be able to lend you sugar or look after the kids while you pop out for an hour. That person who feels a bit awkward, probably is. But we have to make people feel comfortable in our world, because those who do not, will ultimately reject it. All the major terror threats these days come from people on the fringes of our society. How did they get there?
Ever gone to your phone to check for a message but come across 3 others, on 2 different apps, and forget your original message? We are losing the ability to communicate effectively with the people around us, and to say the messages that mean the most. We are at risk of losing the ability to normalise situations through having a shared normality, and to help prevent alienation from taking place.
We are almost too connected. Thinking, talking, reflecting is secondary.
Selecting the communication that you really want
A couple of years ago a good friend told me that they realised it had been months since they had had a real conversation with someone. Not just a funny, drunk one. Not a chat to catch up on what was happening with the kids, their work, their partner. But a conversation. One that was neither planned, nor expected, not to provide updates, but a talk that took both parties a little further than expected. A discussion, a discovery. I haven’t been able to connect with that person since last year, but that’s normal these days.
I went to a gig recently at the Ziggo dome in Amsterdam, Mumford and Sons. If you like them and you have never seen them live then you should. The lead singer came off stage to sing a song from within the crowd, crowd surfing back to the stage, one of the most generous performing groups I have ever seen live. Their interaction with the crowd is simply unifying. You don’t need to be charged to feel their electricity. That’s real connectivity.
Connecting is good for us
Today the UK will vote on leaving the EU. The headline topic on the leave campaign is immigration. I read a piece in the International New York Times last week about Jordan. Sandwiched between Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, this small country is possibly the most welcoming place for refugees in the world. Many years before the current refugee crisis in Europe, the small country of Jordan has been welcoming over a million people a year, compared to the whole of the EU receiving over a million people up to about a month ago in the current crisis. When they did a census lately they discovered that over a third of their Jordanians are not actually Jordanians at all. But it works.
The amazing state of Jordan
Jordan now boasts one of the most successful economies in the region. Their stable state and high levels of immigration have led to one of the fastest growing economies. Why? Because people who need to work, work a lot harder.
Productivity per head is higher, and at a time where productivity in much of the rest of the world is in decline. I dread to think what London would look like without the army of lower paid workers, that you see early and late on the trains, it would be more expensive than it already is. Like in Luxembourg, where you call out a plumber, and it’s €200 just for them to take a look. But then when you look at the fact Luxembourg has one of the highest GDPs per capita then you understand where that goes. Just look at all the most successful places around the world, London included, they are also the most ethnically diverse. Is this really a coincidence.
The 23rd June is significant for another reason, it is also National Day in Luxembourg. There was a huge street party in town last night, the fireworks of which are some of the best in the world. It is possible to keep a sense of national identity while also belonging to something much greater.
Make the connection
The reason that we attend concerts and nightclubs, isn’t just for fun. It’s because of the chance to enjoy connecting with others. We crave it. We need it. We need to be a part of something. That thing, is the human race. Not your phone. Not an app. A person. The reason we need to be a part of Europe, is to avoid alienation. Let’s not distance ourselves from our neighbours.
The democratisation of information, and the communication of the internet does not result in a more cohesive society. We have to work harder to bridge race and cultural divides. Don’t wait to make that connection with someone who looks different to you.
Many people will be reading and writing about Brexit and Europe today, and rightly so. But I am dedicating this blog to all those who have lost their lives in 2016. There is something more important than pride, and that’s peace.
Posted by Rana Hein-Hartmann, Europe Director