It’s ironic, isn’t it? In the age of the consumer being in control; at a time when we can easily avoid the interruption of unwanted advertising; we are opting in to be distracted on a monumental scale. We follow scores of blogs in a Google reader. We scan and update our Twitter stream much of the day. We check Facebook, answer IMs, and in between, respond to an assault of emails — all by our own choosing.
Being connected to digital devices most of our waking hours can be overwhelming. But this feeling is not just uncomfortable, studies have shown that it is detrimental to our ability to focus, to make good decisions, to be productive and to be creative.
There’s a movement afoot to convince us to change the way we relate to digital media.
The message is that we need to step away from it to refresh, relax and recharge by unplugging on a regular basis. The message is that we need to spend less time online.
The movement is being led by an unlikely group — the upper echelon of connected people — people at places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google. By the very creators of the tools of this onslaught.
In February, I attended the 2nd annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference, which brings people together to address the issue of how to do meaningful work, and to remain productive and creative in the face of hyperconnectivity. Speakers and proponents of the importance of taking planned breaks for the sake of doing more important work included Chris Sacca, a Twitter investor and advisor whom the Wall Street Journal called “possibly the most influential businessman in America;” Eric Schiermeyer, co-founder of Zynga; and Stuart Crabb and Michelle Gale, who at their respective companies of Facebook and Twitter are responsible for employee development. The conference sold out early and when it was livestreamed, thanks in part to its incredibly influential speakers, it was viewed over 200,000 times. This is a movement with a lot of momentum.
A memorable moment at the conference was when a panel of people spoke of the long hours and constant computer time being logged at places like Facebook and Twitter, and mention was made that “everyone at Twitter was doing the work of twenty people.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, world-renowned mindfulness teacher, laid a simple, but obvious truth on us, that can be applied to the way we are connecting today in four words:
“This is not sustainable.”
In the same way that the bloated American diet crept up on us until medical professionals convinced a significant and growing number of people that it is not healthy to eat giant portions of food with sugared sodas and snack on potato chips and candy, we are seeing evidence — both scientific and anecdotal, of the hazards of becoming bloated with digital information.
The agencies, consultants, brands, bloggers and others whose day to day lives are deeply involved in social media will need to face this issue head-on.
We recognize the value of being connected to the rest of the world in real time. There is unquestionable potential to do good socially, politically, intellectually, in business, and personally. Yet, the question of the many ways that being online so much will effect us is important to address.
Tiffany Shlain, a filmmaker who founded the Webby awards, tried to address this issue in her film called “Connected.” While she loves technology and all of its possibilities, she started to question how a highly connected life was effecting her personal relationships. In an interview with Brian Solis, she described how she and her family decided to unplug from all digital activity including phones one day each week for 24 hours. More and more people are going to develop personal policies like this as they take account of the effects of being online.
So, what are we — people active in digital marketing — to do?
One thing is certain: This raises the bar on content creation. If more and more people go on a digital diet, they are going to become connoisseurs of good content. We’re going to demand fewer “wasted calories” and “balanced diets” online.
Here are some suggestions for connecting in a world where people will be filtering more of the noise.
1. Don’t reach as desperately for quantity. Focus more on quality, both as a consumer and a provider of information. Avinash Kaushik just marked his 5-year anniversary as a blogger and showed graphically, how over time he wrote fewer and fewer posts per month (while making each one longer and more strategic) and his visitors per month climbed.
2. Just because there is unlimited space on the internet, doesn’t mean you should use it all. It’s more work to say something of value in less time and space. Look at Seth Godin, who has written powerful posts as short as a few words.
3. When you write a blog post don’t repeat what you’ve read hundreds of times. If you take a position or write about a topic in social media (although it has no doubt been discussed before,) make sure to add value to the conversation by putting your own, original spin on it. When you retweet, say why. No one will want to waste time on empty digital calories.
4. Get outside of a narrow area of interest and learn from people who you don’t usually read. Likewise, if you are curating, find related content outside of your niche. For example, in marketing, consider following and reading people who write about leadership, neuroscience, psychology, storytelling, design or anthropology. Show your readers that you can widen their horizons by widening yours.
5. Take breaks from the computer to spend time doing the activities that you personally find restorative, whether it is meditating, knitting, golfing, running or tai chi. Do what your readers will be doing to be more creative and insightful.
6. Remember that a post works best if what it conveys is drawn from the life you are living. Surround yourself online and off with connections who inspire and enlighten you–people who can help you grow, learn and create. Be that person for your circle of friends.
7. It’s always been true, but now and for a future where content is going to be consumed more selectively, only the most creative, inspiring, helpful and fascinating content (and its authors) will be embraced.