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Radio review: The Digital Human and From Our Own Correspondent

30 October 2020


The author Dr Rachel Botsman discussed workplace trust in The Digital Human (R4, Monday)

The author Dr Rachel Botsman discussed workplace trust in The Digital Human (R4, Monday)

AS A back story, Dr Rachel Botsman’s reads as if Mrs Doubtfire had been reinvented by the scriptwriters for Line of Duty. Four-year-old Rachel had a nanny, hired by her mother on the basis of an advert in The Lady.

Nanny Doris was an upstanding member of the Salvation Army; or so it said. Only when Rachel mentioned to her mother about the regular visits to a dismal flat in Edmonton did it emerge that Nanny Doris was running a drugs ring. And when she bought a getaway car on Daddy’s credit card to carry out a violent robbery, it became clear that either Doris was not who she said she was, or standards at The Lady had seriously lapsed.

So, issues of trust are important for Dr Botsman, and you can imagine that story wiping the floor at her interview for Trust Fellow at the University of Oxford — although, in the context of a discussion in The Digital Human (R4, Monday of last week) on workplace trust in the digital workplace, the anecdote came across as a little OTT. After the story of Nanny Doris, accounts of colleagues’ bunking off Zoom calls somehow didn’t seem that significant.

In the past six months, most office workers have not seen their colleagues in person; some new recruits never have. How, in these circumstances, can you become or remain a trusted member of the team? A German professor talked about the limbic system and basal ganglia, and a social psychologist talked about facial cues; but it seems that the best strategy is to engineer the “unexpected” appearance on your Zoom call of a cat or young child, preferably while you’re delivering the quarterly report. The sense of authenticity that such domestic intrusions bestow can excuse the most abysmal sales figures.

The quest for authenticity will surely be the theme of a library’s worth of Covid books and novels as yet unwritten. If you have such a creation lurking in your imagination — a powerful and honest account of how the pandemic forced you to rebalance your life and recognise the things that really matter — then you should first catch up with Kamin Mohammadi’s contribution to From Our Own Correspondent (R4, Saturday), which managed to distil the clichés of this fast-emerging genre into an essay of such stifling complacency that I had to listen twice to check that it wasn’t a spoof.

Mohammadi has lived a hectic routine as a magazine editor, flitting between London and Tuscany, living her life at “turbo-speed” as she promotes her book, flying to Lahore for the weekend for a book promotion. . . Oh, and did I mention that she has written a book?

But now, she has been forced to stop and take more permanent residence in Italy, “folding yet another country into my heart”. She has “cried uncontrollable tears” for the pain of “my city”, Florence, but at the same time delights in the fact that it is now free of ghastly tourists and can be enjoyed by the real locals, like herself. “We are all citizens of the same world,” she exclaims in conclusion. On the evidence of this, she is not even on the same planet.

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