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Connecting the DISCONNECTED

When is an insight not an insight? When there’s no insight, of course.

Here’s an example. It’s true we are more connected than ever these days. It’s also true that many of us feel less connected.

Put the two together and you get: ‘Despite having lots of new ways to connect, many people feel increasingly isolated’.

That sounds like an insight, doesn’t it?

There’s evidence. Just read any recent article on what’s being called ‘The Loneliness Epidemic’.

There’s also an implied reference to an implicit need, our need for Connection. So at least we’re swimming in the deep end.

And there’s a conundrum. Despite being so connected, we feel disconnected.

But it’s still not an insight.

It isn’t an insight because it doesn’t pass the two tests of being one.

Firstly, it doesn’t make you go ‘A-ha!’. There’s no light bulb moment. I feel I’ve heard it many times before.

And secondly, there’s no ‘Ker-ching!’. What are you going to do with this thought?

No point offering people a new way to connect, that’s not going to help.

How about attaching your brand to the feeling of connection? That’s what most people look to do at the moment. The problem is how are you going to make your take on Connection different to everyone else’s? More importantly, how is this solving the problem?

Or you could go further, you see it as an opportunity to get involved in the broader social issue. You could try to reduce loneliness.

That would be noble work. It also wouldn’t be simple. Apparently, research has found that common sense approaches, like increasing opportunities to make friends, don’t always result in reducing a person’s loneliness. What people often need is help in changing their view of themselves and how they feel others will react to them.

The bigger danger, though, is that now we’re up in Purposeville and we were meant to be down in Insight. We may feel good about what we’re doing, but didn’t we just miss a step?

Maybe no one will notice and it’ll be OK. Except it won’t be. Without a genuine insight, how are you going to build a genuine connection? How are you going to do the job that needs to be done?

The answer, as with any insight mining, is you have to keep digging.

So here’s a thought. Maybe people don’t actually want to feel connected.

I don’t mean in terms of their devices, I mean in terms of being present in the moment.

This came to me when I was watching Charlie Brooker, the writer, critic, presenter and producer, on Room 101. He just casually dropped into a conversation: “Of course, we’d all rather be on our smartphones, wouldn’t we?”

Maybe that’s the real truth. I do think it every time I see a couple in a restaurant, both on their phones. That’s some motivation that gets people to behave so rudely.

Have you also noticed when someone arrives at any socially challenging situation how they become fascinated by the contents of their newsfeed?

And what does everyone now do on the bus and train? People don’t even look out the window any more.

I could go on.

How often do you let your phone go to voicemail with a feeling of relief? But how quickly do you check it when you hear the text alert?

How many of your emails do you re-read before sending to make sure the tone will be taken in the right way? But do you like commenting on LinkedIn because you get to compose what you’re going to say before you post it?

When did your house line last ring and it wasn’t a sales call or your mum?

I even have a theory that people are now less patient in conversations. It’s that idea of listening to respond rather than listening to understand. But it seems more prevalent than it used to be. Maybe it’s just me.

And one step beyond that are all the arguments over false dichotomies. As Tim Minchin said: “We try to argue a point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either ends of different courts”.

Seth Godin recently wrote: “When we’re arguing a point with someone, we tend to use words and images that work on us, not necessarily that help the other person”.

So maybe the insight’s the wrong way round. It’s not ‘despite being so connected, we feel disconnected’. It’s ‘because we’re now so connected, we want to disconnect.’

Which leads to a tension. Disconnection means more superficiality. That means less empathy. And you can’t have a meaningful connection without empathy.


And we all need meaningful connections, particularly brands.

So brands need more empathy.


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