‘Hello…’ ventured Lionel Ritchie in 1984 (and Adele more recently). On he sang, ‘I sometimes see you pass outside my door… ‘cause I wonder where you are, and I wonder what you do…’ (OK at this point it’s getting a bit strange, but stay with me here). The thing is, back in those days we were all left to scratch our heads about things we didn’t know or weren’t really that close to. Yes we could phone a friend, in a ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ kind of way, but today it’s pretty well the polar opposite. Everything we could ever wish to know is at our fingertips, literally, thanks to our faithful friend – the smart phone.
I love that moment when I step out of the tube station and see a sea of people staring downwards. No, it’s not some great pavement art, or a lost £10 note. It’s their devices. We – and hands up, I include myself here – use them for literally everything. Apart from, curiously, talking. According to a new study from Deloitte, more than one in five smartphone users don’t use their mobile to talk to people. Seriously. And it’s a growing trend. Soon a quarter of us won’t make a traditional voice call this week, month or even year. Like me, your landline is probably feeling like a museum piece these days. I wonder if the ‘phone’ should be renamed?
My first reaction is to be speechless (sorry, couldn’t resist). But actually, it’s probably not that much of a stretch – we text friends, listen to music, order groceries, book Uber, watch movies, write to-do lists, get directions, flirt, date, Tweet, fire off emails, share treasured photos, see what family and friends are up to, and so much more. Imagine how this would’ve helped poor Lionel.
But what does it all mean for human exchange and a bit of longer, more engaging communication? Have they had their day? Were they all a bit overrated and anyway aren’t we all too busy? Are we now wired to receive short message bursts and move on? And live with a bit of FOMO and JOMO?
I suspect not. Because interaction is what makes the world turn. It can be human – intonation, body language, inference, accentuation, words of wisdom, small signals, big gestures, verbal shows of support. Or it can be words – tailored and carefully chosen just for the reader. We rely on these connections, especially in the world of work. We can email someone for a week, but a chance encounter on the way to the coffee machine can make things happen, as if by magic. We can silently fume over a seemingly curt message, but when we lift the phone (to talk) we can get a fresh and sometimes unexpected perspective. We can skim and hit delete on the never-ending ream of emails but when something catches our eye because it looks like it’s just for us, we’ll pause and read on.
My smartphone is my friend, a necessary compass to navigate life. But I need a little more for energy, to spark ideas and frame my thinking. It does take effort. I used to stare at a teleconference phone with a slight dread, knowing I’d be dialling into silences, unintended interruptions and slightly awkward moments. But the connection a conversation creates, and how it builds a relationship over time, is pretty awesome (by the way, if you have four minutes, watch this telecon parody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ
Grazia magazine this week declares the newsletter is back. Really! Apparently feminist Lena Dunham’s bi-weekly newsletter has reignited people’s love for regular written roundups. A companion I hope to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; but maybe with the benefit of warm words delivered direct to a willing audience. As someone who used to write a monthly brand magazine for employees – I blush as I admit, delivered by post all over the world – I’m a little shocked at the reverse trend. But it’s also a nod to communication with good heart and soul and, although I couldn’t survive for a second outside the electronic world, I can’t help but smile a little. And for those smartphone lovers out there, here’s some great features we might enjoy in the not-too-distant future: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/future-smartphone-features/
Deputy Managing Director