Norina Hertz on “The Crisis of Global Unity”

Norina Hertz on "The Crisis of Global Unity"

Profile personly: So what exactly can governments do?

Hertz: Social media must be regulated. Now they are assigned with algorithms to be addictive and divisive. This can be changed. You have to reprogram the algorithms so that hatred and polarization are not encouraged. We need zero tolerance for hate speech.

Profile personly: The debate over how to strike the balance between freedom of expression and the protection of all concerned will continue for a long time. On the other hand, awareness of the extent to which smartphones and social media can isolate teenagers has increased a lot. But I am also very happy that my student, who is isolated in prison, can at least meet his friends on gaming platforms and social media.

Hertz: I spent a few years evaluating scientific data and interviewing young people. Media platforms are intentionally designed to be addictive. It makes us feel more lonely because it takes us away from those we live with. My husband and I often sit next to each other and get so absorbed in our phone feeds that we no longer communicate. Plus, you often show off yourself on social media and present yourself better than you are. It is often difficult for young people in particular to combine their online personality with their true identity. Who admitted having cookies on the sofa in the evening?

Profile personly: Cookies are currently so popular on the couch, and sweatpants are ready to be gathered in this pandemic.

Hertz: However, this is one of the positive outcomes of Covid: We are talking more frankly about our situation. In general, however, it has to be said that social media is generally about who gets the most likes and how you can achieve this. Additionally, hate, bullying and harassment are on the rise on social media. A third of women between the ages of 18 and 24 in Britain have experienced harassment on Facebook. The platforms are not close enough to remove and block the hate posts. Young people in particular spend so much free time on social media that these platforms have become very, very important to them. WhatsApp groups, for example, are very popular, and this has its advantages even in everyday school life – but not everyone is invited to friendship groups. And of course it hurts when you are not invited.

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Profile personly: Well, you used to have the same issue with birthday parties. The effect is likely to be amplified through social media.

Hertz: definitely. If someone is not invited to something, then it is often broken up on various platforms. This elimination hurts twice when you get it. Phones and platforms – they’re all open 24/7. And adults often don’t even notice it.

Profile personly: Another example of how to hold back loneliness is urban planning?

Hertz: I agree. There is no point in hiring the Minister of Unity with a small budget and then investing money in meeting sessions when you save money on the existing libraries and cultural centers at the same time. We don’t need fewer libraries and cultural centers, we need more. Youth centers and places to meet for the elderly will be very important. However, in the past 10 years, there have only been savings. Perhaps that could change now. After all, it is more about our health and prosperity. And our democracy.

Profile personly: Amid the pandemic, e-commerce increased due to the failure of many stores to open them. Many of them might not be able to open again because customers have switched to the internet. What can countries do there?

Hertz: The trend towards online shopping was of course a problem for shopping streets even before Covid. You have to develop new concepts for the main streets so that the shops are not empty and the pedestrian areas are not deserted. Communicative facilities like conference rooms or state-sponsored fitness centers also help.

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Profile personly: Theaters and cinemas?

Hertz: Yeah. And, of course, cafes and restaurants. Governments should reach out to everyone who was profitable thus far and simply helped prevent loneliness as a side effect. All research shows that even one minute of calling a waitress or salesperson significantly reduces the terrible feeling of isolation that people who live alone often feel.

Profile personly: Increased unity is also a result of neoliberal politics, where achievement rather than solidarity is at the fore. Here in the UK, this has been more noticeable since Margaret Thatcher than on the European continent, but even there, as she described in the book, the word “we” is used more often in pop songs than the word “I”.

Hertz: In Austria and Germany as well, one witnessed politicians such as Gerhard Schroeder who took up the neoliberal projects in which the individual was placed above collectivism and traits such as hypercompetitiveness were evaluated – to the detriment of qualities such as esteem or solidarity. Austria and other European countries also approached people from being viewed as working horses rather than as auxiliaries. So what we had in common got pushed in and people became more lonely.

Profile personly: As a successful measure to counter loneliness, you cited the “Germany Speaks” initiative in your book, which was organized by Zeit in Germany in 2017. In Austria, this experiment was conducted by Standard: Austria Speaks. The interlocutors were gathered from two different camps of opinion together and were supposed to talk to each other.

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Hertz: Die Zeit and The Standard have correctly understood that we have to combat the feeling of many people being isolated from one another. How do we get back to each other? The experiment worked: after two hours, people saw each other completely differently, and trusted each other more. Even if you have completely different political views. This is much more difficult on social media than on direct communication.

Profile personly: You’ve also addressed the commercialization of loneliness in your book, or it almost seemed to me that you aimed at it. For example, did you hire a girlfriend in New York for a few hours?

Hertz: Yes, this is a serious issue. Brittany, who had studied at Brown University and got no other job, hired as a girlfriend for a few hours. We would drink coffee and shop together. Sometimes I thought she really liked me. For lonely people, this in and of itself is not a bad idea. After all, we order a cheeseburger when we’re hungry.

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