THE BLOG

Too Much "Communication" Not Enough Talking

18/06/2013 14:27 BST | Updated 18/08/2013 10:12 BST
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I long ago stopped listing to an ipod on the tube. When I realised I was probably doing myself permanent damage, by having the volume so loud to counter the general noise of the train, I began leaving it at home.

Because I was free of distraction I noticed her - a young teen, bleeding from her nose on my tube. She must have been about 14 and was pale and clearly scared.

My fellow passengers ignored her. I would like to think they didn't notice, but we all know better. No one wants to get involved, no one wants to engage. It's easier to read our Kindle and raise it higher and higher so as to cover our eyes and give us plausible deniability.

Technology is influencing everything, everywhere and it gives us clear absolution from interacting with strangers. Ipod free I asked the girl if she needed help.

She was OK, it was a nosebleed and happened a few times a year, but she was feeling a bit shaky. We got off the train together, found a bench, and I got her a chocolate bar and bottle of water from the vendor on the platform. I stayed with her until she got her colour back and when the bleeding stopped, and she assured me she was better, I got on with my journey. Ten minutes lost but humanity restored.

Heading to the office I decided I would commit to speaking to three strangers a day; all the better to connect with my fellows.

It was this new found commitment which led me to chatting with a street fundraiser. It was a Cancer charity that I already support by direct debit but I stopped to say "well done" to the collector, a young guy no older than 21 clearly having a less than successful day.

When I left him he said "thanks for treating me like a human". I was shocked to learn that most people don't even acknowledge him let alone stop.

Homer tells us that "the charity that is a trifle to us can be precious to others" and we all like the idea of being generous and giving to the less fortunate. Giving on the street is not for everyone but the idea that people treat these fundraisers with disdain makes me sad.

So I was pleased to see the guerrilla marketing campaign a few weeks ago from Flow Caritas, a specialist charity consultancy.

They had enlisted some celebrity lookalikes to promote the work of face-to-face fundraisers and their role in the charity sector. It was a fun spotlight on a serious message. Watching a fake David Beckham and Gordon Ramsay stop traffic was great to watch. Far from rushing past and feigning lateness, people were clamoring to get snapped with the "celebrities" and patiently waiting their turn.

All concerns about time, and meetings, ignored in the presence of celebrity! Yet when it comes to engaging with a charity fundraisers we can't spare a moment to say "have a good day".

Many of the fundraisers use these roles as an opportunity to gain invaluable skills so they can move forward in their careers. At a time when we encourage and speak of the Big Society, and are concerned about youth unemployment, it's a shame we aren't engaging these youngsters.

It got me thinking about the role technology is playing.

Person to person connections seem to be getting narrower - six degrees of separation are now 3. But it's meaningless if in our connected world we have contacts in India but resist contact with our neighbours. Our smartphone has become a shield against all peripheral human interaction. It is a weapon to ignore not only the bleeding teen but the woman desperately trying to connect us with a good cause or the man with the pram trying to negotiate a narrow road.

Technology is a blessing but we must be vigilant to ensure it doesn't become a curse.

As an Aussie many thousands of miles away from family, and an impossibly cute brand new nephew, Skype offers a lifeline. In fact my ability to watch him daily having breakfast as I prepare for bed is one of the highlights of my day.

Without Skype it would be impossible, for me, to continue my London life.

Similarly LinkedIn has forever revolutionised our ability to network and make connections. While daddy playing golf with the chairman is still the easiest backdoor into some firms, social media has created a significant and respectable side window for the rest of us.

Facebook gives us a megaphone to tell our friends what we think, Twitter gives us an avenue to express our opinions, Foursquare tells our friends where we are, Instagram allows us to capture where we are...we are never more than a click away from as much voyeurism (and nonsense) as we like.

But this interconnectivity comes at a price.

Reduced privacy is the current concern in vogue but what of the consequences on human interaction?

Are we hiding behind our thousand Facebook friends to compensate for the fact we don't make time for our real ones? Do we forward an activist tweet to compensate for the fact that we are not activists ourselves? Do we speak of the government's responsibility to us while ignoring our responsibility for each other?

What if we chatter with the Big Issue seller or took a moment to acknowledge the important role (certified) street fundraisers play in collecting funds for good causes. Might we not be able to play our small part in creating a more connected and more compassionate world?

I hope so.

For more information on street fundraising visit www.streetfundraisers.co.uk