Riding my bicycle along the Regent's Canal on Sunday, I couldn't help marvelling at the Spring fecundity of the wildlife you can find in these hidden parts of a city. Seeing my first goslings of the year and their proud, vigilant Egyptian Goose parents; watching the crazed, noisy battles of Coots; the enchantment of the ballet-like behaviour of Swans; and the ever delightful, quacking ducks who seem quite oblivious to the spectacle around them.
I also couldn't help marvelling at the only other people around at stupid-o-clock Sunday morning – joggers - because they all had their face buried in their smart phones. I try to be generous and think, well at least they're being active and doing something about the growing obesity problem. But I really think I'm witnessing the demise of humanity as we turn towards screens and away from what I nostalgically call 'the real world'.
A recent study revealed that the average human is spending over 10 hours a day with their face to a screen. Add to that the time many people spend with earphones in on their commute, cut off from the social world around them, and I think the scale of human-to-human disconnection is reaching epidemic proportions.
Our gadgets and technologies are increasingly cocooning us from each other. We can work from home, even meet a new boyfriend or girlfriend from home too. We no longer need to leave our homes to buy clothes, visit a supermarket, or enjoy our favourite restaurant food; a few clicks on a screen, more endless hours imprisoned in our own home awaiting delivery, and hey presto!
The emerging evidence is not good. The increasing squeezing-out of time for face-to-face human connection is being heralded as a public health crisis with more potential downsides to our emotional well-being and longevity than the crisis from rising obesity, on a par with smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
And I see the impact in the workplace too. Loneliness (feeling alone even when others are present) and social isolation (being alone) are all exacerbated at times of change and upheaval. Even the traditional time we got to reconnect as humans, like on courses, is increasingly piped through an elearning screen.
For organisations, I believe the inconvenience and cost of bringing tribes and networks together should be offset by the huge advantages and increasing scope for impact human connectivity can create. The biggest challenges teams, organisations and global communities face will not get solved by cocooned individuals staring at a screen. A culture of human connectivity needs to be on the agenda. We need to be finding ingenious and engaging ways to bring people together to galvanise untapped ‘tribal’ energy if we want to start finding juicier solutions to complex, gnarly problems.
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And if you’re out for a cycle or walk, try saying ‘Good Morning’ to someone with their face to a screen. It feels delightfully subversive in these digitally cocooning times, and it could help someone re-connect with the wonderful world around them.