The 'C' Words: Connectedness, Collaboration and Common Sense

HighWire at Lancaster University has requested a series of six blog articles.

The Curiosity Bureau’s Founding Partner Rebecca Taylor responds to the Narratives and Meta-Narratives seminars on Digital Innovation – its impact on the world, the economy and society.

Article 3: Digital Innovation Series

It would appear that the recent murmurs amongst the media (informal blogs included) are once again highlighting our 'shared' interest of connectedness and community. Front pages of business magazines such as Harvard Business Review are continuing to champion all the 'C' words - including collaboration - but the question is why are we having to remind ourselves of human-common sense-connectedness?

JWT's survey of 800 adults for the latest Austerity Index has looked at the impact of economic adversity on UK consumers (18-39 year olds) and the study has identified a segment they have termed the 'Resilients' - they are strikingly proactive and entrepreneurial... with a comparatively upbeat and positive attitude. Tracey Follows, Chief Strategy Officer at JWT London says "Some of the Resilients' can-do approach could be down to their youthful optimism but they may also derive from their sense of connectedness" and in his recent blog entry for the RSA Matthew Taylor (Chief Exec of the RSA) brings to our attention (in the context of equality and progressivism) to Aristotle's argument of '...being connected richly to other people is a vital element of living a good life. As social beings, the quality of our connections can be seen to be a direct correlate of the quality and value of our lives. Whilst the most reliable path to individual contentment may lie in a retreat from the social sphere into a world of contemplation, human fulfilment is an interpersonal phenomenon involving the effects we have on others.'

If we look at the above alongside the recent headlines in the UK - from the threat of the closure of small rural GPs, to the push for getting physical computing in schools and supporting teachers to give precedence to software, hardware and firmware skills and weave it through their curriculum - are we not turning on machines and putting objects and content between us? Should we not be prioritising who or what we are connecting with? What do we do - or need to do - to feel connectedness?

Back in 2009 the Government's Digital Report argued strongly for the case to 'close the digital divide', encouraging the nation to become aware that those particularly those living in rural communities) disconnected from the Internet are 'impoverished'. This is perhaps true when the argument is positioned in the context of being unable to gain learning materials and to complete forms for the council or utility bills. However, what if I were to interpret it as meaning 'to be disconnected from the Internet or any form of digital communication technology means I am impoverished?' What then? Does that mean I have lost the ability to be or feel connected without the aid of technology?

The BBC have been quietly evolving their media literacy campaign, not to educate people on reading television content, but rather educate people on simply getting connected with content through digital means. They are terming this: Educating Digital Literacy and it is informed by their research in 2012 which looked at The Current State of the Nation's Internet usage. Since then they have also shared the follow up, another report that looked at where in the UK people suffer a deficit in digital skills capabilities.

The study divides the internet population into segments: HighTech Influencers, Eager Enthusiasts, Traditional Followers, Trend-Setting Wannabes, Functional Users, Willing Worriers, Concerned Resistors. When asked 'How do they learn?', over 50% of each segment said that they would 'ask another person'. Only the Eager Enthusiasts and Traditional Followers scored just below 50% as they felt more confident asking the likes of Google or learning by trial and error. This is significantly useful if I am making the point that we can not lose physical, human interaction to feel connected.

Courtesy of Gary Vaynerchuk's article: Technology Hasn't Changed Us

The human need for connectedness is still prevalent amongst people.

Those who challenge the need for human to human interaction are the Eager Enthusiasts and Traditional Followers - they are proving that through solitary processes such as searching via Google or slogging away by trial and error means we are connected, we are improving our digital skill set so we can feel connected to people via machines Not the same, surely?

Anne Galloway has been conducting a research project (2011-2014) entitled: Counting Sheep: NZ Merino in an Internet of Things. On 31st March 2013, Galloway shared a blog post on Design Culture Lab - ‘5 Things About Ubiquitous Computing That Make Me Nervous’. She expresses her concerns about the push to adopt technology, suggesting we should resist the temptation to view ‘technology as the best solution to life’s problems’. This argument is also supported by Evgeny Morozov in his book To Save Everything Click Here, Morozov asks: “will a data-rich economy create new forms of digital divide, where only the rich can afford to defend their online reputations?”

Morozov believes this “track and share” culture will present a deep social cost to those who do - and do not - participate. Such consequences will continue undiagnosed as long as technology is discussed in the abstract.

Our practice and research at The Curiosity Bureau is about people, and the connectedness of people to their own thinking, practice and realisation of shared curiosities. Through observation and a spot of reading, I believe it to be revealing an interesting observation - people who are physically active and engaged in a physically connected - as opposed to digitally connected experience, reveal motivational triggers, therefore improving mindful wellbeing. Solitary or communal examples of this include the act of living off the land (farming or gardening), or engaging with the landscape (camping or activity sports). Immersed in a sensory curiosity these physical experiences act as a challenge and provide the individual with a lens - in a state of flow - the individual can create and find solutions to the task in hand, or build connections and see patterns to face the challenges in other aspects of life.

What is poignant to me is how these motivational triggers attributed through sensory curiosity last beyond the real-time, physical experience further inspiring curiosity and possibility. I believe there are some exciting examples to be found in what Richard Coyne poses, he argued that ‘pragmatism is the operative philosophy of the computer world’, and that by looking to pragmatism as ‘a dialogical perspective on sense making orients us to the idea that meaning is a process of bringing together different perspectives and, in this creative bringing together, forging understanding.’

To return to Matthew Taylor's blog entry - I agree, it is perhaps true that 'if progressives claim that the good life is to be found in a certain set of universal attributes they open themselves to the claim of arbitrariness and arrogance and also seeming to be advocates of the dangerous idea that it is the business of social planners to help people create meaning in people’s lives.'

However, let us not forget that to create 'meaning' (shared or individually) we are to encourage the bringing together of ourselves - connect as people to people. Those connections do therefore need time and space and opportunity to exist. Whilst we might assume that our common sense prevails, our time and space is being threatened and distracted - dedicated to the screen, to our computer, to skill building for digital connectedness. I would like to therefore suggest we maintain a human-common sense-connectedness.

Allow me this opportunity to ask what ratio of connectedness would you say you are - physical:digital? And, when we link this back to the Government's statement (earlier in this post), which suggests that when you are disconnected from the internet you are 'impoverished'. Would you say the ratio you have created reflects that you are 'impoverished'?

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