Bursting Bubbles

Today I attended the Belgian PR Summit (or at least the first hour of it, which was in English. Unfortunately my French and Dutch skills, or lack thereof, didn’t allow me to participate further), and a point that one of the keynote speakers, Will McInnes, made has really stuck with me. We are living in a time where, globally-speaking, we are more connected than ever. And yet, social media has put us into ‘filter bubbles’ from which most of us fail ever to break out. When we search for things on the internet, the results aren’t a real representation of what’s ‘out there’, they are merely holding up a mirror to our own narrow viewpoint, enabling us to reinforce these views without scrutiny. Will used Brexit (I still shudder at the word) as an example: so many of us believed we would remain, because our personal bubbles reassured us that we would. In reality, however, a totally different conversation was happening all around us, one that we were dangerously blind to. And now the same has happened in America.

If ever there were a time for us to collectively wake up, this, my friends, is it.

But how to shout outside the bubble in which we have unwittingly found ourselves? I am scratching my head as I type this trying to work it out. But work it out we must. Instead of having conversations with other people like us, it’s time to start initiating conversation with those who aren’t. As someone who believes that fundamentally humans are good (because otherwise stop the world, I want to get off), I cannot let myself fall into the trap of branding everyone who voted for Brexit or for Trump (very different situations, I hasten to add, but both with far-reaching consequences for us all) as ignorant, racists, or any of the other terms being bandied about by people in ‘my’ bubble. Even if I find it hard to disagree, I have to try to stop thinking of ‘them’ and ‘us’, because that just makes the problem even worse. Vilifying people makes the gulf even wider. Instead, would it not be logical to try and start a dialogue with those whose views are different to our own, so we can better understand their point of view, and they can better understand ours? True, the most vocal people in both camps are a lost cause in this respect, but there must be many moderates on both sides who are prepared to hear each other out. Surely if we engage in a non-confrontational way we can better understand the real issues, and work out a way to address them that doesn’t involve stirring up anger and hatred?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I plan to do a lot of thinking about it. Because if we don’t work out how to break free from our bubbles, we are essentially just shouting into the void. And the future of humanity in a world where bubbles never burst is a truly terrifying prospect.

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Face to face

I’m writing this on the return train journey from Manchester, where I’ve spent the day meeting all my colleagues in our North West office. It’s got me thinking about the importance of face to face engagement, not just in a work context but also with friends, family and acquaintances.

As an example, how many times have you received an email from a colleague or been called by your mobile phone provider and rolled your eyes, judging their motives and pre-empting their reactions before you’ve even given them a chance to demonstrate them? If that same interaction had taken place in person, how different might it have been?

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to firing off emails to colleagues or texts to friends when I know I should have spoken to them in the flesh. The ridiculous thing is that it’s usually those texts and emails that need a personal delivery more than most. So whilst in the moment of deliberation and eventual action you think you’re saving yourself any trouble, the likelihood is you’re just storing it up for later.

Why are we so bad at communicating with one another face to face? The dawn of the email and smartphone age has made it easier for us to hide behind our screens, but is there a deeper motivation for our reluctance to engage with our fellow men and women? I know my dislike of confrontation is largely responsible for my shirking ‘real’ contact in favour of the electronic kind, for example, but I do wonder whether we as a species are perhaps simply becoming less inclined to be social, unless it’s a situation where we feel entirely comfortable and in control?

Not all of us are computer game addicts who hole themselves up for 18 hours a day playing Call of Duty, but I’d bet despite having hundreds of Facebook “friends” most my generation can count on one hand the number of people they see regularly in the flesh. We like to seem popular, and yet when it comes down to it we shun the majority of opportunities to really connect.

At work this reluctance can have very negative outcomes – if, for example, a colleague misinterprets an email you’ve sent in the wrong way, gets up in arms about it and shares it with other colleagues who then take his or her side it can backfire badly and damage your reputation.

The personal touch can go a long way – in today’s example, helping to bridge the gap between two geographically distant offices. We covered more ground sitting around a table together than we could have done in a month over email, and I left feeling I’d got a good understanding of everyone’s working styles and personalities – something you couldn’t hope to do on a phone call.

So if you identify with any of the above, next time you go to type an email why not stop and consider whether a phone call or face to face netting might be a more appropriate medium for sharing the information? You might just find the personal touch is more rewarding than you expected.

Writing this reminded me of a recent dinner party during which we played the game where you write a phrase on a piece of paper for the person to your left to slip unnoticed into conversation. If you haven’t tried it I’d recommend it!