Distant, spaced out, put to the test by a routine distorted by rules and prohibitions, orphaned by events and trade fairs in attendance, lacking handshakes and toasts sealing visions and sharing….
Yet terribly close as never before.
That’s the distinct feeling I get upon reflection today, after almost a year and a half of pandemic, when I think about how many people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet digitally and the quality of knowledge and sharing.
Digital has given us a unique opportunity that I am sure we would not have had with the same intensity and speed in a pre-pandemic condition. Conversing and getting to know each other in virtual rooms by talking through the camera of a computer, thus eliminating a whole series of distractions related to proximity, is as if it has made us lighter and able to tune in to the same wavelength.
In the pre-covid society we can say that knowing as many people was not exactly the same as having met as many people.
The encounter is what we inherit from the digital world, an exchange devoid of pleasantries and conventions that points straight to the understanding, sharing or disagreement of ideas between the interlocutors. Digital encounters have accustomed us to listening to those who are speaking, which may seem trivial, but conscious listening is the basis for understanding the ideas of others and therefore for comparison and sharing.
We were not used to such attentive listening before because there are so many factors that distract us in a proximity situation: starting with the non-verbal language linked to physical presence, which often shouts more than the voice, or all the variations linked to places of aggregation that interfere with listening and understanding.
Digital has almost forced us to listen consciously, and this awareness has not only developed personal and commercial reflections, but has generated symbiosis and nurtured a sense of belonging to a world in which we speak the same language, fight the same battles, and struggle with the same strength and perseverance.
The digital comparison laid us a bit bare and we discovered ourselves similar (but not the same), a similarity that brings us closer.
I speak as an independent optician, a term that is still used improperly (or when it is convenient…) but about which there should no longer be too many doubts: independence from the control systems of the giants of the sector and not labelled with specific brands. A free independence because a unique formula that the optician manages to find as a balance and expression of his entrepreneurial professionalism in the sector.
Digital experiences like the one I was fortunate enough to have with RadiO-Ottica, generated a container of sharing in which so many voices spoke and digital encounters were created that gave us strength but also restored substance of relationships during the difficult pandemic months.
Without mincing words, I believe that independent opticians have discovered themselves to be not only less lonely but above all more numerous than they believed and wanted us to believe. The Internet with the lights out on proximity has really revealed to us a dense “network” of like-minded optics while going through very different histories.
Conscious listening highlights how influential is the hammering strategic communication of large companies in the industry whose job and purpose is to dominate the entire market in the sector as in the rest of Europe.
So, without commercial breaks, we realized that people who talk about numbers do so to make you feel small and alone and annex you into a system where you are a number.
We are small but many, we have name, surname, distinct and defined identities but we walk in the same direction closer than we thought, and it was digital that made us discover it.
We don’t fear comparison for fear that someone might copy us because we are unique and unreplicable and if someone’s inspiration becomes too brazen we invent another one.
We’ll never go back. The digital step is taken, we have overcome the offensive and disrespectful spitting lions hidden behind the keyboards and we are projected to an open, fair, free, respectful, careful and aware comparison. We’ve learned to read between the bits and understand how to use our virtual spaces and storefronts to communicate ourselves and not give them away attracted by the formula “it’s easy we do it all” since we know that our identity is sacred and today more than ever is to be preserved at all costs.
This reflection is obviously not a eulogy to the pandemic, what it has wrested from us, or the disastrous legacy we will carry on for who knows how long, but it is certainly a strong realization of what we would not have understood without being forced into such narrow margins of maneuver.
In the most difficult moments, phrases about courage and resilience were wasted and we repeated them like a mantra. We dug into the past and memory in search of formulas and advice on how those who came before us managed to come out of similar dark times, because we desperately needed to soothe our wounds and, as always, past experiences are key to finding courage and strength.
What we can say today that we have well understood is that the turning point in the darkness of a tunnel with no light at the end is when you realize that inside every problem there is an opportunity to seize and that this is a symptom of growth and evolution.
Without crises, nothing is renewed.
Without sudden problems, it doesn’t create the need to think and come up with solutions that we wouldn’t have thought of on a normal day.
Something has changed in the perception and in the common feeling of independent opticians, and in spite of all the macromanoeuvres of those who dominate the sector, there is no turning back from this realization.
Digital technology has broken down the barriers of space and we have rediscovered ourselves as colleagues and competitors from north to south, from Milan to Catania, from Venice to Rome, from Bari to Turin. We can contaminate and differentiate ourselves at all levels, raising the bar higher and higher, certain that the culture of difference cannot be broken by any strategy, however strong and aggressive.
I’m an optimist, I know that. I’ve always been. But being so close from a distance is too great an opportunity to miss.
Maybe that’s what we needed to learn from this pandemic.