A question at the heart of a new partnership between three organisations putting human connection at their core. Deepr, Enrol Yourself, and Hawkwood Centre for Future Thinking have joined forces to set out on a collaborative inquiry to explore its infinite answers.
We lead increasingly disconnected lives with loneliness and depression on the rise across all demographics. While most services and systems we use daily are designed in ways that reduce any chance of meaningful human connection. We use apple pay in the self checkout queue, we check in at the doctors with a screen tap. We use less of our human judgement and social skills to communicate, to purchase, to organise. This is part of a drive for greater efficiency that places no value on the power of human connection and the huge benefits even tiny social interactions can have.
But out of this land increasingly starved of moments to connect, new seeds of relationship-centred design and the importance of human connection are beginning to root. A concept as old as our human existence now needs some nurturing, it may be a field its infancy but those roots give us hope and somewhere to start creating momentum.
Starting in November the Deepr Learning Marathon will offer a dozen co-learners the chance to be part of a unique cross-sector peer group of professionals working on the challenge of embedding human connection into services and systems. A 6 month learning journey to be curious, to explore and experiment, to develop and grow projects, as individuals, and collectively.
To mark the start of the collaboration and inquiry, this week we hosted a night of generative conversation and open dialogue with others thinking about human connection in a myriad of different contexts.
We heard from Matt McStravick, creative director at Deepr and founder of ECHO; Janice Johnson, founder of Eating with Elephants, storytelling dinners fighting stigma; Dr Gillian Sandstrom, psychological scientist studying social interaction, senior lecturer of Psychology at the University of Essex. We invited people to bring their own questions, experiences and knowledge to the discussion, or just listen in and soak up what others have to say. And to diffuse all the heady conversation, we experimented with a couple of small practices designed to help us feel more empathic interaction and bring a sense of real human connection into the room.
You can listen to the recording of the participatory discussion of the evening here.
Or if you’re shorter on time. To give you a flavour of the breadth, depth and intricacies of what came up, we’ve selected some of our favourite topics and the most thought provoking and insightful quotes and questions from the evening:
Skipping the small talk
“When you skip small talk and get straight to the nitty gritty, which sounds scarier than it actually is, once you start doing it, it’s a practice that you can continue to do in all areas of your life” — J J
The expense of efficiency
“There’s a lot of ways that our society has evolved to make things more efficient and more convenient for people. And that seems to be the thing that’s being prioritized possibly at the expense of social connection.” — Gillian Sandstrom
Loss aversion is the psychology of losing something is stronger than gaining something — how does that effect our interactions? When we’re so scared of talking to a stranger we withdraw, how do you help people get over that?” — Sergei
“We fear rejection. Ultimately, talking to a stranger is you putting yourself out there and saying, I want to be part of your world, you know, and getting all vulnerable, and you want to be accepted as the you that you are.” — J J
“Talking to a stranger — if you do it enough times, you start to see a pattern, people start to think maybe this it’s not so scary. And exposure to what it feels like for a conversation not to go so well, makes you realize, ‘oh, that wasn’t so bad’ ” — Gillian Sandstrom
“People who experience Eating with Elephants go out into their workplaces, into their everyday lives with their families, and they’ll start asking more probing questions that result in better conversations, stronger connections, and more meaning.” — J J
Restoring human connection
What do you do when you’re quite fatigued with being vulnerable and fatigued with talking to strangers? How do you restore a human connection?” — Ellen
“Bernie de Koven, a Jedi Master of play, said that with games we can have a dialogue through that connection so that we can continue to play well together” — Tassos
“There are really small things that you can do to increase those qualities of equality, presence and autonomy. Tonight, Advocacy Academy asked us to take our shoes off before we enter the room. This is a lever for managed vulnerability, and a gateway to equality.” — Matthew
Rituals and passages
“How can we mainstream, and not commodify and not commercialise traditional rituals, rights and passages to foster human connection?” — Rebecca
“As psychotherapy trainees, we learned that equalising the relationship straight from the beginning, and facilitating the feeling of empowerment, is actually really, really, really important for their own growth for their own empowerment” — Katy
“With power dynamics it’s instinctual to think there shouldn’t be any, everyone should be equal. That’s not realistic and not that helpful. Now I’m asking: How do we reduce it and make it more dynamic? How can it be distributed more evenly, over time and to more people?” — Amir
Friction to connect
“Where are the points where we can introduce areas of friction to get people to connect?” — Laura
“When we’re talking about human connection, that’s on a really micro level, it’s one person talking to another person. But none of that can ever happen in a vacuum. What happens if we zoom out?” — Zoe
“Sarah and I were talking the other day about how capitalism is like a really bad BDSM novel that everyone’s opted into.” — Amir and Sarah
Important dates to remember
- Early bird deadline: 9am Monday 30th September
- Final Deadline: 9am Monday 14th October
- Kick off weekend: Friday 22nd — Sunday 24th November
Deepr is the R&D lab at the forefront of thought and work on meaningful connection in service, culture and systems design.
Enrol Yourself is an award-winning social enterprise redesigning lifelong learning by harnessing the power of peer groups.
Hawkwood Centre for Future Thinking is a charity, sustainably run estate and cultural hub in the heart of the Cotswolds.