Tuesday, 23 November 2010
I live in a small town, just a few hundred households. With the dense population overhere, it's less than a square mile altogether, half of which being pastries, ditches, and other greenish stuff.
I chose to live here on purpose.We were driving down the highway, looking for towns to live in, and I said to my wife "I want to live somewhere where people still say Hi to each other". One minute after that, we ended up in the town where we've been living for over 10 years now
In this town, everyone pretty much knows everyone. Sometimes it can take me over an hour to walk the dog, just because I meet a few people and we'll stand still to have a chat.
We wouldn't need phones here, or cars. Or even bicycles. Our kids play with other kids and even when no one knows where they are, a 5-minute drive through town takes you by all possible spots where they could be
How different from the large city! The intimacy can have its drawbacks here, as there is no anonymity at all. There is no distance between people in space, or time - you meet everyone at least once a month when you go to the supermarket or church or local bar, and a few dozen you meet even daily. You see most people when you drop off your kids at school in the morning, or pick them up in the afternoon
What is the force that binds us? Proximity of time and space. Living so close to each other increases the chance and frequency of meeting each other, which makes that even little 2-minute chats keep up the relationships. If you meet someone for the 5th or 10th time, either one is bound to start a conversation. None of us is a born babbler.
We also meet in public, which increases the chance of talking to more than one person at the same time.
How different that is from having to travel a few hours to meet people, thus having to stay there for a few hours as well to "make the trip worth-while"
In a large city, somehow this works differently. People still live that close to one another, more close even if you count the population density, but they don't spend time together. They don't greet each other on the streets, they queue silently at stores, bus stops and what not. Sometimes not even knowing the name of their neighbour next door. It's what I call elevator-behaviour: people are packed together so closely that ignoring eachother is almost mandatory, or at least the natural way to go - as is looking up or away, at least not in each other's eyes.
The chance of meeting the same person twice is a lot smaller now. People moving house easier and faster also decreases that chance. Usual 9-5 lifestyle is stretched beyond limits in a city, so time as a factor is less prone to make you meet at given intervals
Tools could help there to cross the distance across - but not in between. Phones and mobiles can restore the means of connecting like in a village or small town, but it wouldn't bring back the appetite for it, would it? What keeps people from standing still and talking to each other, or knocking on their neighbour's door for a Sunday afternoon visit, is something completely else: there is a social threshold of some kind, holding people back
That same social threshold exists in enterprises; you sit down for lunch with strangers surrounding you and across the table: do you even say Hi? Shake hands and introduce yourself - every single time? At a meeting, how many do you know, by face and / or name? 20%?
How often does your personal manager change? Once a year, once every two years? How about your business unit manager? Do your colleagues leave the company at 15% to 20%, renewing most "blood" within 7 years?
Do you still try to cross the social threshold, or have you stopped meeting new people? Does your social circle grow smaller every year? Do you still frequent meetings like you used to?
Tools can supply the means to become social again - but who'll provide us with the goal?