HomeShoppingSaturday 11 March 2023 - Monocle Minute

Saturday 11 March 2023 – Monocle Minute

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Last week, in this very column, I wrote about the need for conversations and why we find meeting new people so difficult – and it generated, well, lots of conversations. There’s the reader creating an app that brings together people who don’t know each other, not for one-night hook-ups but rather a chance to break bread in a restaurant and hear new ideas. There’s the Danish woman who organises sell-out events where she has learnt how to keep people off their phones and in the moment (you’ll be reading about her in Monocle, for sure). And there’s my former colleague in the US who contacted me this week to say that, prompted by my column, she wanted to introduce me to someone delivering rigorous change at a global retail brand who I would enjoy talking with (and so, with no outcome in mind, he and I caught up on Thursday, and she was right: he was fascinating).

But some other things came up this week in the correspondence too. One of them was a simple thing. For a conversation to work, someone pointed out, you need to be like tennis players, passing the ball back and forth over the net (although the analogy seemed a bit weak to me as I would be more likely to smack the ball into the net or accidently whack it into the other player’s eye socket). You get the gist though: a good conversation is open, frank, amusing, revelatory even, and involves sharing the ball. But people find it tricky to be open and honest: they don’t want to be seen as “oversharing” and they don’t want to be viewed as a failure in any way. So modern conversations too often remind me of Instagram posts where anything that isn’t perfect is cropped out and an imperceptible filter is added to every story that makes clear that the speaker’s life is all rather fabulous. It’s hard to know where to go with such conversations (home in a taxi is probably the best route). They also do no one any favours – who wants a world of life-draining bland chat?

And yet what has also come up in the correspondence this week is that a lot of people crave conversation, want to meet interesting people and feel like they belong; that they are part of a community. Perhaps this is something that has been heightened by the pandemic and the shift to people working at home alone. It’s surely also down to the silence of the modern office where the ringing phone and the watercooler banter has been replaced by people “talking” on Slack and wearing headphones all day so that they can be soothed by a rain soundtrack. And, of course, our bewitching phone screens don’t help. My Danish contact told me that, from where she lives in the countryside, she often sees people out on their horses but with the poor stallions aimlessly plodding along as their riders stare at their phones.

I don’t have all the answers to the question of how we create places that offer community, trigger conversations and reset our relationships with our phones but this week I have realised that it’s something that lots of people are thinking and talking about. And that includes Monocle. We want to host conversations on our radio station, we want to introduce readers to each other and passionate panellists at our events, and we want to hear from people who challenge the orthodoxy too. In surfacing ideas, in convening debates, we also hope that we are creating a community and a sense of ownership and belonging that all magazines once seemed to deliver. At their best, our cafés and shops seem to function as miniature clubhouses. Even with this column, I aim to be like a good dinner guest – happy to share my week, the ups and the downs, and keen to hear from all of you. But apologies if I stole your bread roll.

There’s also a positive, entrepreneurial story here. People clearly see an opportunity for creating businesses, delivering services, building spaces where we are enticed off our phones and where great speakers, exciting moments and incredible experiences are used to bring people together as one. It’s why, for example, the future of the private members’ club has never looked so rosy. But I’ll tell you all about that another time.

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