The Erosion of Community and Empathy – The Same Accelerant?
I have mentioned in the past that I follow the writings of NYU Professor Scott Galloway in his blog, No Mercy/No Malice. I also reviewed his most recent book, Post Corona.
Last week, Professor Galloway posted an article titled “The Great Dispersion.” Some of the article repeated material from Post Corona, particularly the point that the most enduring feature of the pandemic will be as an accelerant of existing trends. The trend that Professor Galloway cites as encapsulating the greatest reallocation of stakeholder value is “The Great Dispersion.”
Professor Galloway’s term refers to technology’s dispersion of large segments of the economy without regard for existing distribution channels. Amazon and Netflix are two companies that have leveraged technology to disperse competitors in their markets.
Professor Galloway also writes that thanks to current technology, work from home, telemedicine, and remote learning are about to leapfrog over corporate headquarters, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and college campuses. Many “winners” will be created from this dispersion, according to Professor Galloway.
Rather than focus on the business-related points in The Great Dispersion, I want to discuss his points about the impact of the dispersion on community and empathy. Social media, most prominently represented by Facebook (one of “The Four” tech companies), is a form of dispersion according to Professor Galloway. Through social media technology platforms, connections, competition, and debate are enabled regardless of physical distance.
Simultaneously, time spent on social media platforms reduces the time spent with members of our physical communities (pre-pandemic but accelerated post-pandemic). Social media platforms also reduce healthy friction in communities (defined as truth, science, and editors by Professor Galloway), allowing for acceleration of misinformation and conspiracy.
Working from home reduces the benefits of corporate offices, such as meeting people from different backgrounds and having spontaneous discussions over coffee, lunch, or the water cooler with coworkers that you barely know. Those chance connections may be more impactful than any of us realize.
In a dispersed world, Professor Galloway writes that people will have fewer encounters with others with a different skin color, economic status, and gender/sexual/political orientation. When those encounters occur, they will be in the wrong context.
Social distancing during our rest and relaxation time has reduced trips to the movie theaters, use of the subway or other mass transportation, visits to the malls, trips to the grocery store, or standing in line at polling stations. Again, diversity falls victim to fewer chance encounters at institutions embraced by all.
Professor Galloway is known for his expertise in marketing, technology, and entrepreneurship, and we’re comfortable agreeing or disagreeing with his premises as to the business opportunities provided through the adoption of technology. Dialogue regarding the erosion of community and empathy as a result of the acceleration of trends are topics that we’re not used to reading in a business-oriented article or book.
I applaud Scott Galloway for including these additional trends in his analysis of The Great Dispersion. Business leaders who attempt to be among the “winners” in adopting to the business trends accelerated by the dispersion may be “losers” when they evaluate the social and psychological impacts to their workforce and to the communities in which they live.
With the rising number of COVID-19 infections, now is not the time to ask everyone to return to the office to build a sense of community. And whenever a vaccine is successfully rolled out, it doesn’t mean that companies should automatically return everyone to their original corporate offices and workstations.
However, leaders need to consider ways in which a sense of community can be implemented with a more remote workforce. One of those ways may be through increased employee participation in community activities. Other ways may include sourcing supplies and services through local vendors.
Implementation of ways to increase empathy and community at corporations will have a downstream benefit to all. Isn’t that what we all want?