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BARBICAN LIFE


the most addicted cohort in (US) history, (I daresay it is mirrored here in the United Kingdom) and the most obese. I would add for the UK that we appear to be the most ‘preoccupied’ of all generations of adults – all of these are indications of what happens when we feel that we may not be ‘worthy of connection’. This peculiar loneliness, this perceived loss of love from the world, leads us to ‘numb’ that feeling of rejection – we start by giving ourselves a couple of drinks and a chocolate chip cookie, (or banana nut muffin, to adhere to Ms Brown’s tastes) maybe. Sometimes that gets worse, and we go on to more ‘grown up’ solutions – a headache pill, or a little mood enhancing tablet – surely that can do no harm, we tell ourselves.


Etching of Adam Smith


well, that is missing the money, and we all do, inevitably. But is our engagement in the economy overlaid with our personal need to be in favour with ‘men’s eyes’?


Ever an economist, I went back to Adam Smith. Here is how he put it: ‘T


Brene Brown


o what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world? ... What are the advantages of that great purpose of human life, which we call ‘bettering our condition?’ We do this not to be furnished with life’s necessities. Our aims are bigger, and more general: ‘T


o be observed, to be Sherry Turkle


attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy ….. and approbation’. He had hit the nail on the head of course. That is what happens to us all when we have money coming in every month, and we are at work, thriving, with a legitimate outlet for our creativity. We are connecting with people and we feel the approval of our colleagues. We are unconsciously, seeking and gaining the love of the world. Without it, there is a different kind of heartbreak. It is the disturbing, dark heartbreak of ‘disconnection’. I looked into the expression ‘disconnection’ and found that it is a well researched topic in American social work. Brene Brown, of the University of Houston, has made a career of looking at what makes us ‘vulnerable’ and the greatest trigger is our fear of disconnection. She says that ours is the most medicated,


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she is no longer feted by that publication – she says that she is now concerned about how the mobile phone has come to be used… it is changing us. Disturbingly, we find that today, people will send and receive texts during conferences and board meetings, during their social time with friends, during funerals. Even that period of reflection during grief can be numbed by ‘being elsewhere’ on your phone. Being somewhere else has become a device for avoiding pain. It has almost become our way of telling whoever we are with, that we have better things to do, than just being with them. ‘People listen to me’ we seem to be saying, ‘and I need to say this right now – my input is important to the recipient’. Turkle defines the cause of this as the ‘Feeling that no-one is listening to me’. She had thought in 1996 that ‘talking’ in the virtual world, with a larger circle of people, we would learn more about ourselves, and somehow, live better lives in the real world. Of course, I surmise that we couldn’t get any meaningful feedback from these new


But I reminded myself that we have moved on from Shakespeare’s times and today we have many ways of connecting with the world, through modern communications technology. So shouldn’t we be dealing with all this a bit better? We certainly move quickly on from our place of discomfort, spending long times on our smart mobile phones, connecting on social networks with people who we often don’t know very well, making new ‘friends’ in cyber- space... employed or not, we are controlling precisely where we are for the optimal length of time, creating a sort of ‘distributed self’ – a person in many parts. Does this help us, though, to feel less rejected? Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at


MIT, who enthused about the positive effects of technology in the early days of the internet, was featured on the cover of the techie magazine ‘Wired’ in 1996. In 2012


acquaintances, because the ‘persona’ visible to the virtual world was necessarily an edited version of the actual whole person. A teenager responded during Turkle’s research by saying that soon, he would seek to learn how to have a ‘voice’ conversation – he was content for the moment, to text his friends. Is this friendship? Is it even a human connection ? Discuss.


Enough! Instead of focussing on our collective failings, I would like to tell you about Ms Brown’s compelling account of those she calls ‘the wholehearted’ – we should indeed spend our research time and money learning about those people


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