This morning I read two online newspapers, roughly 23 emails I’d received overnight and a few pages of the book I’m currently engrossed in – Half the Night Sky by Nicholas Kristof – and had Sky News on in the background whilst I made my breakfast. All of this was before I even left my flat to head for work.
We truly live in an information age and fight the daily risk of drowning in the stuff. Zoning out of conversations while we side-eye text messages, ignoring the pilots aeroplane mode requests until seconds before take off, scrolling quietly on our laptops while half listening to our colleagues give meeting feedback; often totally losing focus and not being able to pick the wheat of insights from the chaff of waffle. We live in a microwave society of instant gratification where everything is just one click away and often reduced to a mere 140 characters.
According to an Ofcom study we spend an average 25 hours a week (yes over a whole day!) online and check our phones up to 200 times a day. We absorb so much information from what we read and write, I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost our way when it comes to communicating in any other form.
I was asked recently by a colleague, who was intrigued by my PR past, what the essential traits of a writer are in today’s society. I firmly believe it is, as it always has been, these two things:
- Listening – the ability to listen as well as talk. Listening gives you the opportunity to offer an informed point of view; not only by listening do you hear what is being said, but you get the chance to hear how it is being said too. This provides a whole wealth of information from tone and pitch along with mannerisms. It is only by listening that we get a true understanding of what is being said.
- Curiosity – an interest in the world around us, an inquiring and analytical mind. Nothing beats playing detective by asking the important questions and delving deep for the answers.
In an information overload age, the curiosity bit is more essential than ever but so is the analytics. I thought back to yesterday, I probably consumed the same amount of data as I did today, including the epic horrors of news from court cases, Egypt, Syria and beyond via the media as well as gorging on the more photogenic aspects of my friends lives via Facebook. The three most enjoyable experiences for me however were in person, face to face. Hot chocolate with a friend, an intriguing client meeting and dinner with my cousin who was in London for the night.
Amid all the digital and other media information we consume daily in our admirable curiosity, it is important we create space for talking and listening to people – the simple art of conversation.
Online dependency may not be life-threatening, but I do worry that the digital revolution has caused us to become so used to getting everything we want, whenever we want it, that we have forgotten that time is finite. For every minute spent reading the Mail Online, watching YouTube or scrolling through other peoples holiday photos, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to spend time with our loved ones or just in our own much needed company. Young children now spend hours on tablets chatting in cyberspace, yet when I was a child my social network was called “gong out to play”. Living in a digital world where the new technology has us communicating quicker than ever before and in real time, we appear to have switched face to face conversation onto silent mode.
Years ago, families would sit and watch TV or play board games together, nowadays, they may still sit together but instead of chatting they are on their tablets sending emails, checking their friends Facebook status’ and texting on their smart phones. In many companies (the one I work in included), instead of getting up and walking across the office floor to speak to a colleague or turning to ask the person at the desk next door a question, people email instead. The silence of nobody speaking in person is deafening as we all have got so caught up in our own cyberworlds of communication. It seems that our plugged-in lives with all of our mobile technological devices have allowed us to be “home alone” yet together.
I have nothing against communicating via the multitude of technologies we have available to us in our daily lives, nor indeed do I have an issue with us absorbing information from the media sources, how could I when I am a writing a blog? However I do wish that sometimes even if just for thirty minutes a day, people would step away from their desks, forget condensing thoughts into a single tweet and spend time talking and listening to someone face to face. You never know, you might actually learn something.