Listening is not Easy!

Today I had the great pleasure to participate in the event hosted by UOL, o Poder Digital. Did you go? If the answer is yes, I would love to know how you got to the event and how you got back to your office afterwards. My reason for asking is related to some of the themes I tried to speak about / would like to have discussed more during the event… about LISTENING.

You will probably hate me for what I want to say and think I’m being self righteous and yes maybe I am a little … but I wonder how many people returned from the event using public transport. I took the train from close the event to Pinheiros and then the Metro to Santa Cecilia to get back to my office.

Much of the discussion at the event focused on the possibility for conversations and for the social classes, that have for many years lived in separate spheres here in Brasil, to better interact and understand each other.  Digital media allows us ever greater access to be able to ‘listen in’ and observe the conversations of others. But when I talk about listening it’s an active not a passive listening – listening is also about participating and observing and wanting to try and understand. When I take public transport here in São Paulo – something which I almost always try to do whenever possible – its not about feeling self righteous about saving the planet its about wanting to be part of this great city and to interact with my fellow Brazilians (if my visa ever arrives – only 5 years of waiting) and to be part of a public discourse.

Its easy to consider the great transformations in media when we consider the opportunities for coming together as a society but lets not neglect the opportunities offline. With all the discussions of infrastructural investment in Brasil because of the Olympics and Copa are we overlooking other changes in the physical environment (such as the new Metro lines) which could open up greater opportunities for social mixing.

Listening isn’t easy – it’s not as simple as paying for someone to monitor the number of times your brand is tweeted about – its an investment. I took an extra 20 minutes to return to the office in comparison to my early morning journey to Santa Amaro via taxi (shame on me). But this time for observing and listening is priceless to me. How else would I have encountered the family with their 7 week old baby on the train going to the medical centre on the other side of the city. Where else would I see the man wearing a Polo-Shirt with the word ‘Hampshire’ written across it and asked myself when will this craze for polo shirts with the names of English cricket teams come to an end? Or have observed that women tend to use their headphone attachments of their phones in just one ear whilst men use in both ears – is this a question of spatial conscienceness, security and ownership in public space.

I think it is wrong to expect that research will deliver is Meta-Insights that will lead to instant success. Its hard work and it’s the combination of Micro-Insights that we get from our time in public space which can be as important as those ethnographic field trips.  It may seem like hard work to make that decision to invest those 20 minutes (now im just being smug) but every time we do not choose to encounter the people with whom we share the city – let’s just remember that we are making a conscious decision not to do so.

Finally if I hadn’t walked to the station I would not have seen this great example of social communications – yes im of a generation for whom graffiti was not commercial street art but walls were actually made of cement and perfect for such forms of self-expression.