This week we're reading: 'The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters' by Susan Pinker

By Matt Boffey, founder

September 30, 2015 | 4 min read

Every Wednesday, London Strategy Unit's Matt Boffey reads one of the most influential books from the world of innovation, marketing or creativity so you don't have to. In today's Booknote, he reviews Susan Pinker's 'The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters'.

Why have we chosen this book?

Because despite the fact we’re communicating more than ever, we’re having fewer and fewer meaningful interactions. Humans have evolved to be highly social animals, but our electronic devices are starting to interfere with our biological need for human contact. Continuing down this path means more than missing out on pints down the local pub - Pinker argues that it poses a real threat to our health.

What’s the original thought or argument?

That having close social bonds and regular face-to-face interactions with family and friends helps people to thrive and keeps them alive. People with networks of close friends are less likely to become depressed, go bankrupt or die than those who are socially isolated. In fact, having regular contact with friends reduces your risk of dying more than any other factor, including quitting smoking, losing weight and giving up drinking.

If you want to look smart, just read

The last chapter, ‘Creating the Village Effect’ where Pinker outlines six areas where we can inject more human interaction into our day-to-day lives, namely:

-Get to know your neighbours

-Build real human contact into your work day (save email for logistics)

-Place as much importance on social interaction as you would eating or exercise

-Adjust your ratio of screen communication vs face-to-face according to your temperament

-Make social interaction a priority in the education of young people

-Acknowledge that social interaction is a medical need, not a luxury commodity

You might want to skip

Chapter Five which looks at how social interaction shapes childhood development. The short story is: social interaction in early life is a good thing.

Why trust this author?

The Village Effect is crammed ull of data and case studies. Examples range from villages in Sardinia (with more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world) to a study that found that single men are 250 per cent more likely to die prematurely than married men of any age. Having written for The Guardian and The New York Times, Pinker is one of the leading voices in developmental psychology, alongside her big brother, Steven Pinker.

Once you’ve read this you don’t need to read

Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here. Morozov’s rant about everything that’s wrong with the internet makes many of the same points as The Village Effect, but Pinker is much less of a doomsayer, arguing for digital moderation rather than absolute electronic abstinence.

Why should this stay on your bookshelf?

​Because we’re in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. Britons are more likely to feel chronically lonely than any other nation in Europe. For many organisations, solving loneliness is starting to look like a very lucrative area indeed.

What’s the one thing you should do differently after reading this book?

Next time you’re having a conversation by text, pick up the phone and have a chat over the phone instead. Studies have shown that hearing a voice over the phone releases levels of oxytocin (anxiety-relieving hormones) that are similar to physical contact, while receiving a text from a friend provokes almost no biological response at all.

Best quote in the whole book?

“Given the powerful evidence, the capacity of intimate interaction to jumpstart learning and rejig lifespans is not that hard to fathom, not that hard to integrate into our daily lives. All we need to do is picture what our own real, in-person villages might look like, and then reach out to create them.”


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