The Weekly Stripe 22.05.20
This week’s links explore what the absence of bodies mean for a host of familiar cultural institutions and gatherings. From football matches and Quiz Shows to Prime Minister’s Questions missing bodies are reminding us quite how crucial embodiment is to atmosphere, understanding the moods or our ability to perform.
Boris Johnson may be recovering from Covid, and suffering baby induced sleep deprivation – but it’s the absence of his braying backbenchers that’s leaving him looking more than a little lacklustre in the House of Commons’ weekly set piece. Turns out that stuffed benches are even more important than a grasp of the facts.
Crowds are integral to football. And not just for charging loyal fans through the nose for ticket. As European football returns to a back drop of empty seats the importance of fans to making football what it is is becoming clear. Supporters never doubted this, but reports that the Premier League wants “piped-in noise, holograms, flags and atmosphere” suggests the penny has dropped with them too.
The long running BBC quiz show Have I Got News For You has gone virtual and simultaneously gone un-funny too. Absent a studio audience and their physical co-presence panelists struggle to time their cracks, bounce of each others’ fast-paced repartee. Again, absence just goes to show what we get from presence.
Philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, and an informed critic of the virtual world, once quipped that “Whatever hugs do for people, I’m quite sure tele-hugs won’ t do it.” It would be hard to disagree and somehow the neuroscientific explanation of “skin hunger” neither sounds nice nor feels like an adequate explanation of what’s going on when we have a hug.
The Death of the Office has been threatened for decades and never arrived. And yes, everyone who can is working remotely and lots of digital transformation has been accelerated. All of which misses the vital point that offices provide opportunities for unscheduled interaction, an ability to sense the mood (of the company and its market) and most of all they provide meaning. Seasoned office commentator Lucy Kellaway nails it in this piece.