Social health, Europe and Braddon

Jo Scard

When I was a kid I definitely recall my mother telling me to eat my dinner and citing children in Africa who did not have the luxury of a daily nutritious meal.

I recall having some degree of empathy but I’m unsure if it increased my intake of vegetables at the time, which was undoubtedly her hidden agenda.

Just this weekend my family’s discussion turned to the access to technology for kids around the world. My 13-year-old son mounted a case for us to purchase him something called a hoverboard for his 14th birthday and our retort that children in developing countries didn’t want for such profligate things simply replied:

“Mum, we are in a developed nation and I think that children in developing nations do have access to to quite a lot of technology actually”.

From the mouths of former babes.

He’s not correct but his attitude is instructive. As digital natives there is an expectation to access information and technology that is innate.

Given that 6,000 tweets a second are currently being posted globally and that Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second, translating to 3.5 billion searches per day, or 1.2 trillion a year that is a lot of social sharing, and a lot of data. The Oxford Internet Institute academic Professor Luciano Floridi calls our current age the ‘4th revolution’ after Copernicus, Darwin and Freud, where the world is dominated by ‘the infosphere’ or information and communications technologies.

A Co Working space from Jo's travels

A co-working space from Jo’s travels

Australia is currently ranked 16th in the world by the World Economic Forum’s annual Networked Readiness Index’ which assesses how well 150 economies around the world deploy technology and networks to boost competitiveness and wellbeing.
I don’t think we can have a networked economy without it also being ‘well’ – and so we need to think about how being fully connected impacts on our levels of wellbeing.

I’ve just returned from a few weeks in Europe spent mainly in big cities. Since I was last there has been a notable arrival of selfie sticks and it seemed that everyone was walking around with their iPhones attached to a long stick. But the vibrancy of Europe’s connected culture has remain as strong as it always was. Cafes – and talking to each other – are such a integral part of that functional, healthy, urban culture.

There’s cafes everywhere in the world – but what was really interesting was the proliferation of co-working spaces nestled within cafes in Europe.

They were everywhere – Paris, Copenhagen and London – and they were jam packed. Old, young, students, professionals, meetings, creatives. And why? Because in our uber connected world people still feel the need to be connected physically to one another. To be able to talk. To allow themselves to be socially – emotionally – healthy.

I was walking through Braddon a few days ago and the place was going off. It was vibrant, full of energy – the closest thing I’ve felt in Canberra to what we saw in Europe. And how did it get there? Because it has allowed a really extraordinary mix of things to coexist.

co working space2

Cafes, restaurants, retail, offices, residential, government services, politicians, a car wash, bottle shops and service stations happily live very proximate to one another but it works beautifully and it’s precisely that diversity and the density that makes it work.

It’s a great ACT achievement of urban living that should be mirrored elsewhere in my view. What I observed were people making cafes their workplace as well as their social place. Free WiFi and coffee. Socially healthy.

It’s incumbent on the ACT Government to encourage such an approach to future development. We don’t want to repeat Sydney’s mistake of allowing our city to spread to the size of a small European principality. Urban sprawl isn’t good – it fosters isolation and social ill health.

Healthy practice takes time to develop and requires substantial cultural shift. A decade or two ago many of us smoked, drank and did little exercise. We now know the impact of those decisions. And we are now realising that social media makes us narcissistic, smartphones cause insomnia and screens makes us less empathetic and our children socially dysfunctional.

We need to use technology not just to disseminate information, but to support human activity and foster greater emotional connectivity. Our fully connected age is also a social age but it’s so important that we make it more healthy than unhealthy.

That means knowing when to disconnect, and how to order what you know and who you know to avoid drowning in the overload. In the meantime good on Braddon for doing it right.


Jo Scard

With over 20 years' experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s leading advisers to corporates, Not-For-Profits, organisations and government. Managing Director of communications agency, Fifty Acres which is HQ'd in Canberra, Jo is a respected former political journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. A former senior adviser to the Rudd and Gillard governments and a trained lawyer she is on the Boards of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Hockey ACT and a Member of the NSW Council of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Jo is an Ambassador for the global entrepreneur magazine Renegade Collective and a member of the Registered Consultancies Group of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She has spent over a decade advising corporates and Not-For-Profits at CEO and board level across strategic communications, government relations and public relations and co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Seven’s Melissa Doyle. More about the Author