Clear and present danger

2014

These days, a stranger walking past you in the street or the person sitting next to you on a train could be someone you've already come into contact with online. How cool is that? So cool that it leaves me - and I suspect many others – completely cold!

Why, when a word or two exchanged with someone right next to us could brighten our day, do so many of us thumb our noses at the idea of real connectivity and opt instead to spend hours increasing the number of (often spurious) connections we make with people we'll never actually meet?

Human beings are social animals. Since the dawn of time, gregariousness has been seen as a normal human impulse while an abhorrence of human touch and shying away from connectivity has been considered abnormal. So do we really want a life without empathetic gestures, a life without warmth of tone or eye contact? Aren't we putting ourselves in danger of becoming "such stuff as dreams are made on" in real time?

The idea of celebrity has always been massively appealing. When the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind went to America in 1850 to be launched by publicist P.T. Barnum, thousands of people thronged the quayside to get a look at her even though none of them had ever heard her voice - there was no such thing as recording to prove that she was any good at what she did. Her fame was all due to Barnum's hype.

Current social mores now pressure each one of us to stand out from the crowd, à la Miss Lind. But because there are now millions of on-line 'wannabees', to turn what is most salient about ourselves into a world-wide hit really does take a shot in the dark.

Those very words are indicative of how damaging it can be if we allow online connection to become the only way we interact with other people. How can putting ourselves in real physical contact with others have any worse consequence than having our brains battered to a pulp from too many online hits? By neglecting real-time connection, we are willfully putting ourselves in danger of becoming punch-drunk and constantly throwing ourselves off balance.

To redress that balance, we must incorporate flexibility into our daily routine since - paradoxically - flexibility is the quality that adds stability to relationships. Only through connections that are flexible and tensile rather than rigid and brittle do our lives gain coherence.

When applied to people with whom we earn our living, a flexible attitude opens the way for the group to become cohesive. Ideas from within such groups not only have more clout and staying power than do those dictated by an individual, but also, the extra legs they have to stand on makes them more likely to produce stable, long term profit.

On line connection as part of a strategy for increasing mutual respect is a fantastic tool that all can access. And as we see people having to die in their thousands to achieve such respect, it becomes more and more clear that the power to advance such productive change sits in our own hands.

To turn on line connection into a tool of self-repression rather than self-expression would be the height of madness. But, unless we realise that to get out and about and rub shoulders with one another is equally as important as maintaining contact on-line, such madness is likely to be unleashed. And, when it is, we shall have no one to blame but ourselves.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.