Sometimes, what we sense as we go about our lives and a word find each other and capture the mood of a moment perfectly.
This morning, that word is “brittle.” My dictionary defines it as “having hardness and rigidity but little tensile strength; breaking easily and suddenly.” Its etymology takes me to fourteenth-century English Brytan, meaning “to crush, pound, to break to pieces.”
That just about captures the last twenty-four hours. The catalyst was an interruption to our water supply. On ringing Severn Trent to report it, the opening message on the phone was, “Our operators are unusually business at the moment.” At 3:00 am? I got through to a human almost instantly who told me what had happened. Why have that opening message as a default, I wonder? – and it had reinforcements in the form of encouraging me to switch to text messaging. The impression it gives is clear – we really, really do not want to talk to you in person and only will if you are prepared to wait a long time. Would you please go away and talk to our robot? How many calls do we make where that “we’re unusually busy” message precedes a further string of sales messages and diversions to text or websites?
Then we have Government responses to protesters, from farmers who cannot get their pigs to market to “insulate Britain.” Hauliers deprived of cheap foreign labour cut off by Brexit. A response that involves variously studied avoidance, to lots of locking up and pre-emptive transport restrictions rather than engaging. We may not like what they are doing, and it can be irresponsible – but they have a point. They deserve a hearing.
At the same time, an article yestrday’s Economist published a short article highlighting our hunger for conversations with strangers – preferably deep discussions. It reinforces our own experience at Originize of months of experiential evidence of the power of challenging conversations to bring people together.
And today’s headlines feature a six-hour outage of Facebook and Instagram – perhaps the biggest destroyers of meaningful conversation ever known to man.
The result is that we are disconnected as we communicate via short, transactional, increasingly digital exchanges devoid of human expression. More technically networked than at any time in history, yet with probably the most brittle relationships. Lonely in a crowd, It will not do as we go further into what is clearly a significant phase change in our society and economy. At this time, we need suppleness with each other, not brittleness.
We need to talk. Slowly, with humour, and listen. It changes everything.