I had a couple of cycling Wellington bureaucrats in the van. They got talking, swapping life styles. One worked for the council – social housing, looking for alternatives sort of thing, the other a reserve bank man. Both had moved south during covid, working remotely, keeping the Wellington house but beginning afresh in a South Island city. They discussed the commute, having to spend four days in the capital once a fortnight, the travel involved, finding accommodation in Wellington, the stress on relationships – getting home from the capital and wanting to crash but the partner keen to go out and socialise – the frenzy of team meetings when in town, not being able to be part of the new community, a certain money juggling in order to buy the second house, the joy of the koru lounge when a flight is delayed… They obviously earned good money and were confident discussing the issues of well- being, but also locked into a bubble of public service culture involving policy and team culture, team loyalty and managed access for the public. I expressed a certain historical knowledge of alternative housing schemes in Wellington, but that was like the butler farting. There was no possibility of joining the conversation. The shuttle driver is a servant, not part of their world.
I intuitively sensed that grassroots knowledge or articulation would have no credence in their world. They will do lots of online surveys which never allow the coherent story. All they operate on is the data collection story. They would, I suspect, vote Green and be great recyclers, but their carbon footprint is problematic. As double home owners they will continue the housing crisis. They appeared to be childless with perhaps a dog. If they belong to the PSA it would be simply a further insurance policy. They had some sentimental notion of community, but their knowledge of history would be minimal. As we know they are incapable of solving any of the big issues.
The dream that covid would bring in a more benign work culture has simply resulted in the fly in fly out lifestyle of the miner extending into the middle class, with the similar extensive carbon footprint, disrupted families and communities, for who knows when dad or mum or partner will next be at home?
And the covid concept of people sticking in their bubble was more resonant than we think. With Spotify, Netflix, Youtube etc., people have their playlists, with some algorithmic assistance. There is no longer the surprise of being confronted by something outside one’s bubble. Identity (user name and password) becomes the means of access to oneself. The IRD’s appalling term: realme was actually a statement of fact and all the current identity obsession perhaps stems from this. And the anxiety that something monstrous: a home invader, a terrorist, a predator, a natural disaster, an illness, a serious accident, will prick one’s bubble and destroy identity. Victimhood waits in the wings and easily becomes a retrospective story of bubbles being pricked by malevolent forces and the need for retribution.
So, an interesting van ride. Little did they know that the driver was doing some research of his own.