The human desire for connected communities

Tomorrow, 1st February, sees the screening of our film – the connected baby – at the Scottish Parliament.

I remain pleasantly astonished at the interest in this film. When we released it in DVD format last autumn, I assumed that future interest would come predominantly in the form of orders, with families requesting it to view in their sitting room or staff teams using it as training material.

This interest is clearly rising. Grandparents-to-be are writing to say that they have bought it as a gift for their child, who is about to have their own first (or third or fourth!) child. Nurseries are writing to say that they have used it as the focus for discussions in twilight training sessions. Staff based in mental health units have written to say that they have scheduled special sessions to think more deeply how the adults they are working with might have experienced early childhood. Parents have written to say how much more closely they are monitoring their baby’s hand movements.

What intrigues me is the continued interest in public screenings. Requests for group viewings are increasing. For the Scottish Parliament event tonight, we had 100 seats available. We had interest from nearly 300. The fact that we had to disappoint so many people quickly turned into curiosity for me, when several groups came back and said, “Well, if we can’t get a seat at this event, could we schedule our own? How do we do that?” I loved that rather than resting in disappointment, they took action to bring their wishes to fruition. It seems a kind of ‘group self-soothing act’!

It made me think about what a public screening of a film offers. The point of attending a screening clearly isn’t seeing the film. We have it available in DVD, so anyone can see it in their front room. Thus, attending a screening must be about more than seeing the film. Rather, it is the chance to sit in a space with other people, to know that you are sharing your experience with others, to have the chance to discuss what you are thinking and feeling, and together to craft a sense of action. It is the sharing of the experience.

This is so fitting for this film. It says that we still want connection, that our experiences are richer when they are shared with other people. In this age of individualism, when we can all obtain the things that we personally want, a lot of what we want is to share experiences with other people. This is what our brains and bodies want: to feel emotionally connected to other em-bodied brains.

We still want community. We long for it. That’s one of the core messages that continues to come out of reports about societal challenges we face at present. One of many examples is Unicef UK’s report about children wishing for more family time. Children want time with their community of origin.

Of course we want community. Of course we want connection. That’s what our human brains were designed to do – figure out how to be social. When our society is not organized in a way that fulfills a core function of the brain, then it is not surprising that we end up feeling frustrated, confused, listless.

The answer lies in re-establishing a sense of connection, in knowing that, simply smiling at the bus stop, unimportant or silly as that may sound, makes a difference to our society and to our brain. It reminds me that our film isn’t about babies. It is about baby humans.

I think that, in my opening remarks at tomorrow’s screening, I’ll reflect on this innate wish for community. And somewhere along the way in the discussions, I’ll see if we can make the political link between smiling during nappy changing sessions and smiling at bus stops!

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