Yesterday, from 5 PM until 8 AM the following morning, I couldn’t reach one of my closest family members; someone I communicate with multiple times a day via email, SMS, and less often, by phone. Contemplating a breaking and entering to her home after five of each, emails, texts and unanswered phone messages, and after a sleepless, worried night, she called and woke me with a simple explanation – "I didn’t feel well and turned off my phone at 5 PM to rest;" simple and instant. Yet in today’s age of communications within an Attention Deficit Disorder generation, untypical and scary.
Growing up in the Bronx in the mid-1980’s, there was a corner public phone bank adjacent to the park where all of the local kids took turns manning the phones as our parents would call and demand us home for dinner, or our friends would call to see who was there and what was up. These calls were often our only communication for hours at a time. Today, walk into restaurants, meetings, movie theaters or otherwise, and people are typing away, blackberries in hand, on chatting on their cell phones, too often oblivious to the person in front of them with whom they can communicate without the technology.
Owning a PR firm, I am perhaps more cognizant of, and surely guilty of the instant communication bug. I often explain and even offer semi apologies to potential clients and new friends. I carry my blackberry and like an addiction, must check it every few minutes; not to do so can mean missed media opportunities, or worse, a newswire quote which reads "couldn’t be reached for comment," - which occurred recently when I didn’t call a reporter back within an hour. The journalist also expected instant gratification, and when I finally did call back, it had already appeared on more than 80 websites. Is this indeed life today?
People update their Facebook or Myspace statuses countless times a day instead of sitting face to face with actual friends. We create identities online and befriend people who in reality we may not actually want to sit with, chat up or share anything with. Is this authentic or flawed communications?
Similarly, as much of today’s news originates from the blogosphere, much of what we see on blogs today is biased rant. The bloggers who make headlines are the ones who fancy themselves as progressive journalists, unbound from the conventions of traditional journalism, such as checked facts and arms-length objectivity. This has become acceptable only because of this A.D.D. communication generation. This communications generation now jumps so fast, fearful of being scooped or being behind the times; they accept the blogs, often devoid of facts, but indeed instant.
Along with those marketing-savvy bloggers come what is usually a small host of commentators who use pseudonyms, anonymous posts and the like without accountability in the comments section of these blogs. Some of these "followers" are not followers at all, but actually the hosts themselves, or shills planted by the host to say the things that, coming from the host, would damage his or her credibility. Yes, indeed it’s instant; but accurate or ideal? No! However, that’s not required for an A.D.D. generation.
In this Attention-Deficient world, it is much harder to validate or check identifies. While today’s instant communications of email, SMS, Facebook and the like is instant, I believe it’s not authentic. It’s raw but it’s not real, on so many levels. It could be a husband texting a wife a quick answer to a simple question, or a client annoyed at an agency that doesn’t instantly reply to an email.
In the earlier days of professional communications, or PR, mail forced people to plan ahead with care. It required thought, strategy and planning, something which today often is not available. Today it is hard to plan even a day, or an hour in advance, for if you don’t reply instantly there can be mass panic. Instant gratification has become a double edged sword; what we do believing to be cutting edge, can also dull the sharpest blades.
One of my earliest bosses taught me to use the draft box for email when I was upset "Wait an hour or a day before you send that message" – I try to use that advice as much as I can. Perhaps one of the lessons of the current recession is to be wary of the uber-quick – There will be many false messiahs in times such as this – Just as one cannot "get rich quick", perhaps we should all try and slow down and be wary of anyone who requires instant communications.
While instant communication can seem great, we must too be wary of only relying on instant rather than building longer, real bonds. Face-to-face, or extensive real phone calls are much more real and valuable than blog commentating and Facebook profiles.
Of course, had I heeded that message, or considered for that someone else might be heeding it, I may have slept last night. For tonight, I will only check my Blackberry two times during dinner instead of every five minutes – and dinner will hopefully last longer than ten minutes.
Founder of 5WPR and Author of "For Immediate Release", Ronn Torossian was named a semi-finalist for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.