co—matter digest #57: Insights about the future of community

The hope for more collective action, solidarity and deeper connection.

For three weeks I went through a mix of feelings. I adapted to life from home, juggled between work and family and used the spare time I had left to stay in touch with friends, catch up on the news and go to sleep with Netflix.

I didn't feel bad for not using my time to read more books, learn a new language or start a side project. While my body was stuck at home, my mind wandered restlessly; trying to read, listen and observe what's going on in the world to make sense of it.

In a widely shared Harvard Business Review article David Kessler argues that the discomfort we're feeling is grief. A collective grief about the loss of normalcy, the fear of uncertainty and the loss of connection.

What I observe though is hope.

There's a desire that we start to care for each other more; that the collective action we witness today will arm us to tackle future challenges; that we collectively re-discover the concept of solidarity; that the internet becomes a place to make deep connections again.

Will this crisis change how we exist collectively?

Any prediction today is just a hopeful projection into the future.
Below are five observations based on the articles and experiences that shape my thoughts today.

Stay safe and healthy,

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1. Now is the time to see how connected we all are.

We remember 2019 as the year when Greta Thunberg became famous, millions of people took to the streets and it seemed impossible that airplanes stop flying, governments restrict the economy and masses of individuals change their behavior.

Right now we witness exactly that. We experience how interdependent we really are and how cooperation is key to survive.

Will this prevail after the crisis? Probably quite the opposite. But this collective experience
could lay the groundwork for the collective action we’ll need to deal with other global crises that follow.

Read more by David Byrne: The World Is Changing — So Can We

2. Togetherness in times of crisis.

The virtual meetings, concerts, karaoke sessions, reading clubs and other hangouts that take place online now make us realize that community is a mental mindset, not tied to a physical location. A group of people gathering for the same purpose at the same time at the same (virtual) place is what matters.

While a few weeks ago we still wondered if all the cancelled conferences can take place online instead, the clear answer today is: yes. We will create new spaces for us to meet in small and intimate groups online.

I found Toby Shorin's observations on the future of culture, brands and entertainment helpful.
I loved being part of the Living Room Sessions by The House of Beautiful Business. 170 people gathered to hear an interview with author Pico Iyers, listen to a Leonard Cohen song and do some exercise together.

3. A dawning awareness of solidarity.

In times of crises we rediscover our innate desire to help one another. We deliver food to our neighbors, sing on balconies, donate millions of masks and celebrate those that keep the system alive.

This is a dramatically different view from the world we knew a few weeks ago. A world where there was nothing wrong when individuals and nation states cared mostly about their own interests. In times of economic prosperity and technological advancements the concept of solidarity almost felt unfashionable.

Will this change after the crisis?

"We may see a dawning awareness of dependence, community and solidarity" writes historian Rutger Bregman.

4. Design for society.

Projects by IF, a London-based studio specializing on ethical use of data, published a manifesto on March 21 2020 that states that the age of human-centred design is over soon. Instead, our desires will shift to products and services that consider people as part of wider society:

"20th century approaches like design thinking, human-centered design, and jobs to be done too often look at people solely as individuals. Or, worse yet, only as consumers. They don’t consider people in relation to their communities or to wider society. And society itself is ignored by design."

Read and sign the Manifesto for Society-Centred Design.
Zoom memories: Here's a Karaoke session during IAM Weekend where we sang Bohemian Rhapsody.

5. The Self vs The Collective

The biggest revelation of this crisis is that much of what mattered before doesn't matter anymore.

Who cares about influencers and branded content today? What do all the Airbnb landlords do sitting on empty apartments? Would anyone really regret if some low-cost airlines and other businesses that avoid paying taxes at all cost will disappear?

It dawns on us that optimizing for self-interest is only fun until it lasts. In times of crises inequality becomes more visible and the public good - our institutions, governments and health insurances - key to survive.

I was inspired by reading The Umami Theory of Value by brand consulting duo Nemesis. It's a wide ranging analysis of the experience economy from 2008 until now, published just in time for this crisis to mark its final end.

A chance to catch a breath

Throughout all the above observations I can sense one notion: the appetite for change.

As we face one of the biggest health crisis in history many of us remain hopeful that we won't go back to the world as we knew it. That things slow down. That we care for each other more. That the world becomes more equal. That life can be less about self-improvement and more about improving the collective good.

Danielle Pender expressed what many of us feel right now. Let's not rush into panic work. Let's take this time to reflect and understand what we really want so that we come out of this situation a little wiser.

What keeps you up at night?

We're only starting to grasp how this crisis will change how we connect and exist collectively in the future. If you'd like to join the conversation please submit your questions .

We can discuss them in an upcoming newsletter, podcast or even a virtual gathering.
Submit your questions
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Header image by Edward Hopper.
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co-matter is a global network exploring what makes communities thrive. 
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Last updated: May 14, 2024 ■ 17:35pm