no one reads anymore – WE WEAVE

24Aug07

I just had another epiphany. I know, I get more of them that Joan of Arc. But as M&C Saatchi would say, simplicity is truth.

Seth Godin was saying (yes, you know Seth) that no-one reads anymore.

I admit I am guilty. I do not read as much as I did 20 years ago.

Being of a certain age, I was trained to treat letters as important. The urgent tones of the phone of course demanded to be answered, even if people around me were speaking. After all, if it’s a phone call then it must be important right? Then of course there were telexes, couriers, faxes, pagers, emails, SMS and MMS – and they were all REALLY important. Though some were more often more personal than business.

That’s when the weave arrived. That’s when it took hold.

It was the time when a conversation with friends spread to IRC and Microsoft Messenger and multiple texts updated on your phone. You started to worry less about the technology – was this an email, a phone call or a conversation? It all started to coalesce around debates, images and actions – both business and pleasure. Whether it was through a video camera or face-to-face. It was about a weaving, seamless, conversation – what it said and showed, what was important and needed to be done.

It was all imperative and it became constant.

In the UK BT approached a business to offer them telephone call discounts on the 10 most popular numbers dialled by employees from their office – in the hope that the offer to cut the bill to these 10 numbers would retain the account. The top 10 numbers turned out to include the local employment agency, the family of a daughter who had to speak to them all several times per day and a guy with a partner serving overseas in the army in Germany. In fact none of the top ten most frequent numbers called were for business reasons.

Now do a double check and admit that social conversation – the weave – isn’t unusual.

We are, as a species, social creatures and efforts to contain social interaction by desk cubical, phone access restriction or banning My Space have inevitably failed to make a difference on our level of conversation. They just adjust the channel we choose to weave through and sometimes the volume it is amplified at. But today the people we perceive as our neighbours may now be on another continent, rather than living next door to us. We still see them as neighbours, they are just reached via Skype, MSN Chat or email.

As the frequency of these multi-technology conversations flows, we worry more about getting things done and being in touch than where the orignal message originates from. The emphasis on constant communications (the weave) ignores format and delivery – as long as it is relevant.

The ‘always on and always responding’ culture becomes the norm. We are all Blackberried, Facebooked, Second Lived and SMS’d up to the eyeballs – day and night.

Interestingly, the tests that compare the efficiency of managers from the early 1980’s (who had typists who copied and distributed their instructions), rather than how most of us now create our own documents (spending hours formatting and cc’ing them today) confirm the truth. Employee productivity has declined in the last 10 years, whilst the aesthetic of documents and presentations have improved.

By the end of the last decade, the majority of communication was digital, but today it is also personal and trivial. This is social networking on the rise.

Some businesses have decided that Facebook and other social networks improve employee moral, as staff are asked to work longer hours without the opportunity for levels of social fraternisation enjoyed in previous years – particularly since the demise of breaks, lunch times, cigarette breaks or drinking after work.

The decline in the level of reading, through the consumption of newspapers, magazines and books, is significant. We no longer graze through documents; we devour, ride and reject the wave of headline communication that we are faced with, digitally, every day – We ride the wave.

We absorb and propagate the most important messages we scan – we weave them into our conversation stream. Whether we are from London, Buenos Aires or Shanghai.

We weave and we transmit – but do we digest and believe as we used to? Or am I being cynical?

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