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cnnectd series — Part 1: The Problem

It all started in late 2016…

…when I sold all of my belongings, jumped on a plane in New Zealand and emerged more than a day later on the other side of the world, bleary-eyed and much worse for wear.

Now, in 2018, I call the city of Berlin, home.

The hardest part of moving abroad has been the physical distance between the life back there in Auckland — my friends, family — and the reality that one must start from scratch in a new country.

Of course, there have been other challenges to do with moving to a foreign land, but these challenges somehow seem more overwhelming when experienced in the context of an alien landscape, outside of the strong support network I had cultivated back home.

I miss the ability to just be in the presence of other people with whom I have enough history to not feel awkward in the silence. Yes, it’s a huge cliché, but for a good reason.

I knew it would be impractical to maintain the same relationships with everyone, so far removed from the place itself. I knew I wanted to “show up” in Germany and try to lay down some roots. I just didn’t want it to be at the expense of letting the old relationships wither.

The good ol’ phone call is dead. Long live the good ol’ phone call.

I Skype regularly with a handful of closest friends & family, because it’s well worth the time. I had a plan for keeping a wider circle in touch, which I really enjoy.

Since moving to Germany, I’ve kept an extended circle of family and friends up to date, by recording ‘podcasts’ of my life, and emailing it out manually.

It’s mostly a one-way thing, but occasionally, someone will take the time to record a stream of consciousness, and it is truly a gift.

  • A friend is on a remote island, researching the mating habits of spiders — I feel like I’m there with her, as she describes the night time, sneaking around with a headlamp trying to catch them “in the act” ;)
  • Another is recording himself while doing the ironing, 10 shirts to go. I feel like I’m in the room with him, really getting the lowdown on what he’s going through.

I have actually noticed, that the thoughts & feelings shared in this way, are often deeper than what would be discussed in real-time. I suspect this is due to feeling more self-conscious about what the person listening might be thinking, or how they might react.

Sure, I could keep indulging the deeply ingrained habit — which I’m trying to shake — of checking Facebook as soon as I wake up in the morning. I see the pictures, the status updates, the reaction emojis. I can only vaguely tell what you’re up to these days.

Beyond the standard stuff we share on ‘social’ media, how do you really feel?

What have you been pondering? What’s been hard, exciting, disappointing, surprising, heartbreaking, joyous?

I want more of this.

How has communication changed in the last 10–15 years?

My partner had some insight to share.

As millenials, we came of age before the internet was completely omnipresent in our lives. She talked about how pre-social media, when it was all about unlimited texting plans, the main mode of communicating with her friends was via SMS.

Because of it’s one-on-one nature, you’re often having real conversations, unconstrained by having to react in real time, and the focus is on the other person. In some ways, it’s superior to voice because it’s often easier to write difficult thoughts than it is to speak.

How does it look now?

Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook. Activity feeds, algorithms, stories, notifications.

I shudder to think at the amount of hours I’ve spent scrolling through activity feeds, compelled purely by a subconscious process I’m not even aware of.

Sure, these all have options to engage on a more personal level — private messaging/DMs/Sending a snap to one person — but by and large, we broadly broadcast and broadly consume.

So… who cares?

As already mentioned, it’s hard to maintain a real connection with multiple people, given the commitment required in a ‘synchronous’ activity potentially spanning multiple time-zones like Skype.

There are built in limits to the amount of people we can stay connected with, and I think for the sake of their mental health, everyone should strive to maximise face time (no, not the iOS app) with others.

Maybe the cold, hard truth is that no one has time, nor the inclination, to stay in touch for real, with people they don’t see as a part of their routine, or that they don’t make the time to call.

Maybe all we have time for is scanning through pages and pages of vague, insincere updates, hitting ‘like’ buttons, typing ‘lol’ when we aren’t really laughing.

I don’t buy it, and I believe that there could be a better way.

The problem:

Maintaining meaningful contact with friends and family through digital media is time-intensive, and the current solutions are inadequate for this purpose.




Personal projects, case studies, thoughts.

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Alex Benner

Alex Benner

I’m a Product Manager. Working in FinTech, living in Berlin. I also make music — and do improv :)