Social practice in the age of loneliness

Image result for communal gardening

I went to a lecture tonight after class, and heard Ezio Manzini speak. Now, I’m not gonna proclaim some hipster acuity here because 1) I had no idea who this man was before hearing his talk and 2) my friend was the one who told me I should go in the first place (hi Sam). But man, did he have some interesting things to say. I mean, he does have a few famous books out, so he is obviously an intelligent guy. And I’m clearly the one that lives under a rock (funny I say this, given the topic of discussion).

Anyways, his whole discussion was on the importance of social practice today (and in the future), and how we – especially art and design students – should be active participants in the thought development (and action) of this changing phenomena.

Manzini went into detail about how loneliness has become a disease within our society. Though hyperconnected to the world, our individuality is diminished by our inability to deal with this personal isolation. Technology, especially when it comes to world news and politics, has encouraged us to be knowledgeable about every aspect of the planet – yet rendering us almost defenseless when it comes to our own surroundings (and mind!). This manifests an unmotivated fear within us. And there is a direct link, he claims, between this loneliness and fear.

He says that the best way to counteract these emotions is through social, collaborative activities with others. Organizations that are inherently social have become extremely popular amongst young people recently. It’s interesting and extremely coincidental that he brought up this point, because in my class today we discussed the relationship between the decrease in church-going to the increase of communal groups/practices.

The trend forecaster Jose, that was a guest lecturer in my class, had discussed the increase in Crossfit attendance as a signifier for the rise in non-religious social groups. Manzini gave several examples for these communal groups: shared living spaces, collaborative work areas, training practices (fitness or work related), community agriculture and gardening, shared care/welfare, travel, etc.

All of the groups he was discussing, was placing the importance on the physical interaction of people. In the age of instant online association, we need to change the way we connect with people. Manzini stressed the importance of how social we are as human beings. He even likened our society to an ecosystem. Desertification – like the isolation of people I mentioned previously – leads to fragility of the system overall. The more disconnected people are, the more delicate our relationships. This isn’t rocket science, but what Manzini suggests – the regeneration of this societal ecosystem – is brilliant.

Each person has their own bubble. Whether that is externally forced or personally voluntary, we each have our view of the world. We each have a specific relationship with our immediate surroundings. I liken this to our own little bubbles (as much as “living in a bubble” has a negative connotation these days). But I prefer to visualize this specific adage more than anything.

Manzini said at one point during his lecture, that

Modernity is the melting of ideas.

Now, this seems to air on the side of reductional and destructive. But, to me, melting means melding. The slight difference in those words is key here. I visualize the forging of bubbles – a sort of venndiagram overlapping of spheres. And it seemed optimistic to me – this forging of people, within shared space.

He said several times he has a more pessimistic view of the world – and I can definitely relate to that. But his talk was full of inspiration and ideas for me. I am going to make a point to order his book, Politics of the Everyday (Designing in Dark Times), as soon as possible. And I’ll make sure I seek out these social practices he speaks so highly of. A night well spent, for sure.

Community-based apps on the rise


I’m assuming most – if not all people – have heard of the traffic/direction app called Waze. When it came out a few years ago, it took a long time for people to understand the premise, and for it to gain enough customers for the community-based platform to actually work. The goal was to have users report accidents, heavy traffic, and even cops on the road for others to see (and hopefully avoid). My dad was a very early user, and swore by it. Now, years later, it’s one of the biggest community-based apps on the market.

Insert another one I found the other day: Spot Angels. They only have a few locations – mostly high density urban areas – where parking can be an absolute nightmare. The app let’s users report empty parking spaces (and rates for each). Their website also claims to warn their users of street cleaning warnings, snow plowing, etc.

I lived in Portland, and not having a designated parking space within my apartment building – and that city being majority biking and walking (aka not a lot of available spots) – I found parking to be horrendous, especially on weekends where there were big events going on downtown.

I find community-based apps to be really interesting. In the age of Amazon and Google, many people find people-oriented tech to be more reliable and connected. Although it rides on the average person being trustworthy and dependable (and people inevitably doubt the good-nature of those on the platform) I’ve found they’re usually pretty flawless. I’m interested to see what other community apps people come out with in the future.