I spend a lot of my time on line. I read blogs and write them. I send and receive a lot of emails. I play around in social media. I get my sports news and political news here. I get a lot of my entertainment here as well via Apple TV and the several apps I have. All of the stuff I create as a marketing and advertising guy moves through online channels for presentation, changes and approval. I bill my clients, bank and keep my books on line. I manage 2 web sites, several portfolio and editorial blogs and the list goes on. Most recently I’m now getting the software I use to do my work online too.
And I’m not unusual. The fact of the matter is that without the Internet a lot of us could simply not do our jobs anywhere near as efficiently as we can do them now.
The Internet has created a whole culture of people who spend the majority of their time working and playing online. And because it’s so easy and for a lot of people, so much fun, there is a risk associated with spending the majority of your life online: that is, simply put, the risk of the diminished ability to communicate in human terms. The internet and digital communications media have a shorthand language that have a lot of people trying to express in a few short words what may, often times, be a more complex thought. In this environment the real import of what you want to communicate can easily get lost, or even worse, misinterpreted.
The Machine Stops
When I was in high school, one of my English classes featured the short story book, Man & His World. In it was a science fiction story called The Machine Stops. This story described a world not dissimilar to the one in which we find ourselves today. Everybody in the story sat staring at computer screens. They worked there, they sent messages to each other there, they orders food which was brought to them by their personal robots and when it was time for bed they simply tilted the seat back and went to sleep. As the title would indicate, one day the machine that they all fed their lives into simply stopped. The majority of the people did not know what to do, but one brave soul had the thought that maybe she should get up out of her chair and go outside.
This is one of the most prophetic stories I have ever read, mainly because I can see that happening in the world right now.
Certainly this is not as chronic a situation as the one described in the story, but let’s face it, we are really only a few years into this digital world. Who knows what the future will bring?
I’ve always believed that it’s very important to offset the time you spend on line with time spent off line, hanging with your family and friends, meeting people, being in the world, getting some exercise and fresh air, reading a 3 dimensional book, puttering around the house. Whatever.
Myself I try to get out to a couple of networking groups a month, try to meet with my friends for coffee, ride my bike to do the shopping for an hour a day (Polar Vortex time excepted). Doing things and going places where I can be completely unplugged.
I know that sounds kind of old school, especially when you consider that there are now maybe two whole generations of young people who live almost completely online.
What I fear is that these people, who really do represent a substantial part of the future for nearly any business who sees them as a target audience, are going to become impenetrable. Hard to reach, even harder to persuade.
In a way, albeit a weird way, this explains the rise to prominence of social and digital business media. These media just seem to accept the fact that this is how you reach these otherwise unreachable people. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad one. But what I do believe is that people who spend all their time on line are very much products of this environment. Their attention spans will continue to shrink, their ability to reason will evaporate, simply because all the answers they seek are only a few keystrokes away, and with little in the way of human based social skills, they run a strong risk of becoming both boring and disinterested.
As marketers and advertisers I think that, for a lot of the reasons I have mentioned, we’re going to find the next couple of decades quite challenging. Let’s just hope the machine doesn’t stop.
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