In our heads

Barely above water

I felicitate the people who have a Person from Porlock
To break up everything and throw it away
Because then there will be nothing to keep them
And they need not stay.

Stevie Smith, Thoughts about the Person from Porlock

Across a range of different environments, I hear the same story: returning to in person social activity is hard and people are experiencing all kinds of challenges from lack of social graces to anxiety to lack of motivation to feelings of alienation. We have become used to being in our own heads.

The pandemic lockdown experience whether from legal restrictions or personal caution was one in which our interaction with the world became mediated by technology. Yes, there were video calls but also much of our communication experience was text – chats, group messaging, social media and email.

In both mediums, video meetings and text, there is time to read, think, choices to be distracted or participate and the options of distance to leverage. With new options to ghost the world, overall interaction seems to have declined. We have spent a lot more time in our own heads than in a normal year. All that thinking time accumulates.

Hell is other people

Jean-Paul Sartre

Whether you are an egotistical existential philosopher or not, we have all experienced the disruption other’s present to our comfortable thought patterns. It can be an unique form of hell to deal with other’s views, negotiate options or navigate their egos. Withdrawing to the quiet of home seems an attractive option. Losing one’s temper at the perceived stupidity of other’s thoughts that don’t reflect your own is ever so tempting too.

In person interaction is demanding of our time, our thoughts, our emotions, our creativity and our attention. It is far less easy to tune out, ghost or autopilot face-to-face. Importantly , we need to get out of our own heads to succeed in this environment. We need to be social not just do it.

Diverse teams perform better. They also argue more and have lower trust. The challenge and the conflict of social interaction is part of human performance and essential to human creativity. Design programs develop skills of critique to help designers reach beyond the limits of their own vision. The contest of ideas in academia, corporates or politics isn’t a battle of supremacy, it is a process of understanding evolution and creation. No matter how uncomfortable, that social interaction powers our human development. If we resort to our own heads or comfortable social bubbles, all our lives will be more fragile and the lesser for it.

We need time out of our own heads. The art is rediscovering the potential humanity of those moments. Inconvenience fades. Society must not.

I went my way and would not care
If they should come and go;
A thousand birds seemed up in air,
My thoughts were singing so.

Marjorie Pickthall, Thoughts

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