Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The democratisation of intimacy

Here's an interesting video that's just been put up of ethnographer Stefana Broadbent talking about the intersection of the personal and work spheres at TED.

We just had a small session with Stefana at UCL, who took us through her ideas in more detail. In a nutshell, she started out by saying that communication by adults with their nearest and dearest fits with the attachment theory of clinical psychology, given the typical content of messages that pass between them. Thanks to new media, the reaffirmation of close personal bonds is now possible at work but that this causes a conflict (especially for categories of worker being paid for their time rather than knowledge). This conflict is not just being addressed at the local level by organisations but states are legislating against the use of such devices and platforms, using safety as  the excuse. This excuse just doesn't hold water (her extensive ethnographies within organisations bear this out) and is the pretext for a large incursion by all sorts of authorities into our personal lives.

It's all a bit controversial (controversy is something anthropologists do best) but observations repeatedly show that once workers finish assignments, they disengage and perform distracting activity whether smoking or stretching. Why not extend this to personal communications, especially bearing in mind that the average phonecall comes in at less than 2 minutes and that an average of three are made per day. Add to that the mental wellbeing benefits of allowing people to cultivate personal emotional links and bans on comms devices/platforms seem less sensible.

As an aside, such bans throw the hypocrisy of offices with beanbags and Friday massages into stark relief. They try to make the office environment more 'personal' but on their own terms...

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