On Isolated Connectivity, Social Distancing, and the Future of Magazines
A few years back I coined the phrase “Isolated Connectivity” after a friend of mine told me the following story:
“One day I came home from work to find my son watching something on his laptop and texting at the same time. I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ My son answered, ‘Duh, can’t you see, I am watching a movie.’
I responded, ‘But you are also texting.’ His response: ‘Duh, I am texting with my girlfriend who is watching the same movie at home.’
That made me think, so I asked, ‘Why don’t you just take your girlfriend to the movies and watch together, like the good old days?’
My son replied, ‘Duh again, Dad, we can’t discuss the movie at the theater.'”
“Isolated Connectivity” was the first thing that came to mind when I heard that story. Folks today feel we are so connected, yet we are more isolated than ever before.
That took place years before the COVID-19 outbreak has almost forced the entire world to go into “Isolated Connectivity” under the new phrase “Social Distancing.” The major difference of course is “Isolated Connectivity” was a choice adopted by millions who enjoyed what they felt to be the privacy of their home and the virtual connectivity that kept folks screens apart. Today “Social Distancing” is not a choice. It is a must and a force to reckon with.
Going Against Human Nature
Whether you want to call it “Isolated Connectivity” or “Social Distancing,” I believe this seclusion goes against our nature as human beings. We are physical creatures, and we thrive on three “ships” that cruise all the channels of our physical nature. I have written and preached in my seminars about those three “ships” time and time again.
The first “ship” is ownership. This is the ship we are born with. The sense and necessity to own things. My late grandfather used to tell me, “From the moment of birth, people want to own and have things. Watch the babies coming out of the womb with their fists tight. They want to grab everything they can grab.”
That sense – or as I said earlier, necessity – grows in urgency as we grow up; the older we get, the more stuff we own. Just check your surroundings and see how much “stuff” you own and how much of that “stuff” you really don’t need. Yet, that physical “stuff” has become a part of our “necessities” simply for our sense of comfort. Virtual ownership, if there is such a thing, sounds like an oxymoron. You can’t actually own virtual stuff; you can’t touch those things, feel them, or even say they are yours, truly yours.
The second “ship” is membership. This is the ship that we grew into. A sense of belonging that starts with our parents, siblings, family, friends, colleagues, etc. The old saying, “No man is an island” rings true today as we all struggle to “isolate” ourselves or “social distance” physically from each other. It runs counter to human nature and the sense of belonging and engaging in a group, a physical group that you interact with and use all your five senses as a human being with during those interactions. You want to feel a member of a family, a group, a class, you name it, and as in virtual ownership, virtual membership is not the same. It is another oxymoron.
The third “ship” is showmanship. This is the ship that we adjust to. A sense that we develop where we need to “show off” to gain acceptance or approval from those whom we consider part of our membership groups. By showing off, whether the type of books you read or the clothes you wear, you’re always looking for a nod or a response from the folks around you. If no one comments on your appearance, actions, or stuff that you own, you will never get the satisfaction that you look good, did something good, or that what you are reading is a great book or magazine. When practicing “Isolated Connectivity,” the same is true if no one adds a comment or “like” to the pictures or quotes you post on social media. “Showmanship” is yet another oxymoron if you are only looking at a mirror.
What Does This Mean for Magazines?
So, you might ask how is Mr. Magazine™ taking his aforementioned philosophical analysis to the only world he knows, the one he lives and breathes, magazines? Well, magazines (and keep in mind my definition of a magazine, “If it is not ink on paper it is not a magazine”) are like human beings. They are physical entities that share the same “ships” as those who cruise through human lives.
I always challenge my students and my clients and anyone else who is willing to listen, “If you had the power to transfer your ink-on-paper magazine to a human being who would it be?” Unless we are able to humanize our magazines and offer them the advantages of ownership, membership, and showmanship they are not going to survive.
That is why it is important to view your magazine as a human being, reaching another human being, and to focus on establishing a sense of ownership, membership, and showmanship. A sense of physical engagement with the other – something, yet again, virtual can’t do. That is why I am a firm believer in the future of print and the printed word. Magazines will continue to survive after human nature recovers from “Isolated Connectivity” and “Social Distancing” and goes back to the physical contact and that sense of touch that will never be satisfied with the virtual world.
Here’s the sum of what I am trying to say: As long as we have human beings we are going to have physical things, and as long as we have physical things, we are going to have magazines. Magazines, unlike their business model, are not going to go by the wayside of life; it is how we manufacture and sell them to the public that is going to change. To quote a magazine executive I recently interviewed, “Customers will continue to vote with their pockets.”
And the people said, AMEN.
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D. is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media. He is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the School of Journalism. As Mr. Magazine™ he engages in media consulting and research for the magazine media and publishing industry.