Just back from a trip to America and having spent far too long in airports over the past couple of weeks I was reminded of Jane Jacobs 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and her powerful description of the ‘daily ballet,’ happening on the streets. The mass movement and information exchange between strangers going about their daily business which can be observed and felt on busy streets and places like crowded airports.
Walking among strangers in an unfamiliar place has always had a certain piquancy to it…but these uneasy feelings are now more and more common even as we make our way around our own communities and countries. In airports the constant checks and universal CCTV and security presence makes one feel the oppression of the lack of trust in the travelling public and far from being reassuring it makes me feel on edge.
It is this environment of nervousness and suspicion that makes it harder for us to be comfortable around each other and benefit from the formal and informal interactions of walking with strangers. Our response is to naturally spend more time alone or in close family groups, in our cars and homes and less out in our communities. We lose the sense of ourselves as citizens living together with others in society, and often replace this with other roles – like ourselves as consumers.
And thus, marketing and many other businesses benefit as we replace community with consumption. The impact of these changing modes of interaction and atomisation of society are far-reaching. We trust less, we assume more negative intent and we destroy our very ability to trust, denying ourselves the opportunity to learn and interact with others, and in the process, blunt for good our skills in trusting.
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