In an era replacing real human interaction with technology, whether it be opting for the unreliable self-checkout machines, dropping someone a text instead of knocking on their door, or ordering food online instead of heading to the supermarket, there are countless methods of avoiding face to face contact with another person.
It seems intriguing to consider then: has this era of convenience come at a price? Research would suggest that this may be the case.
On a personal level, however, as a considerable introvert, I would say that my recent research trip to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, opened my eyes and helped me grow as a person.
Firstly, I should mention as a group we were fortunate to be with people who were both considerate and understanding of both our strengths and our weaknesses, in both academic research and also social contexts. The criminological research we were conducting was largely based on semi-structured interviews, which I dreaded from the very beginning. Initially, the things that concerned me most were interactions with strangers, as well as attempting to be professional.
Group H, with Ig prison in the background. Left to right: Emma Arnold, Samie Robson, Elle Brown, Katie Sutherland and Lucinda Clifton
However, if there is one thing I have learned in my life it’s that situations are never quite how you imagine them to be in your mind. I will hold my hands up and say that I struggled to pluck the courage from deep inside to ask a question when I was curious, or wanted an elaboration on a particular point, while I was worrying at the same time whether the questions were relevant, or whether or not they sounded stupid, racing to visualise within my mind the best way to word exactly what I wanted to say.
In the motion of the moment, the concern of interacting with strangers fell apart as everyone we met was so friendly, eager to speak, and seemed genuinely happy to be there. Concerns about acting professional crumbled too, as everyone was far more informal than initially imagined.
For someone such as myself, this was immensely pressure-relieving. However, even after the very first interview, it became apparent that some members of the group were far more at ease with talking and asking questions, conducting the interview very fluidly; more like a conversation than an interview. I felt a mix of admiration and shame, I thought that they did brilliantly, but at the same time I knew within myself I had held back from asking questions, and to make a fair contribution to the interview as a whole I should have spoken far more than I did.
I was not the only quiet person within the group, which made me feel a little better as I knew I wasn’t floating alone on HMS Shy, and I knew that they were probably just as frustrated with themselves as I was. I thought that everyone picked up on this division, but the division in fact brought us closer together. Reflective conversations after each interview was conducted allowed us to figure out exactly what each other was thinking, and a lot of gentle encouragement and reassurance was directed towards the quieter members of the group. I recall the words “Your opinion matters” and “No question is a stupid question”. Upon reflection, I began to realise that ‘the divide’ as I mentioned earlier was something which was created entirely within my head.
‘I’d say that this experience has changed me. I will be forever grateful for such a valuable experience, facilitated by the other group members who were so considerate and understanding we were able to lift each other up and become something greater together.’
Everyone was in the same boat, everyone worries, and everyone doubts themselves; people just deal with things differently. The only thing stopping me from speaking is me. It was around this point that a decision was made within the group: only the quieter members would embark upon the last interview, and conduct it entirely themselves. At first the entire prospect seemed daunting, but we bit the bullet and before we knew it we were sat on worn wooden stools in a small Slovenian pub, with soft lighting and small groups of people huddled in corners, and our interviewee sat next to us, anticipating our first question.
Everything was cosy and we were surrounded by the gentle clinking of glasses and muted indistinguishable conversation. For some reason, Usher’s ‘Yeah’ was playing in the background, quite at odds with the entire atmosphere. However, this was it, and although I was trying to fight the urge to sink into the background, I knew that it was up to me and I wasn’t about to let the group down; not after everything they had done for me.
I awkwardly voiced the first question and made myself grimace as it was worded badly and had to be rectified by Elle. I knew my face was involuntarily flushing red but I wasn’t about to back down. I remember squeezing my pen with determination, trying not to lose focus. We asked question after question, and even though it was a tiny bit painful to speak up, the pain receded each time, like an elastic band of awkwardness was slowly unwinding from my throat letting me feel more free. Once the interview was concluded I felt really proud. It was a small step for some, but a huge step for some particularly shy members of Group H.
Lucinda visited Slovenia as part of her studies on the BA (Hons) Criminology degree. Each year, students studying on the International Fieldwork module have the opportunity to visit a European city to study it from a criminological perspective.