Seth recently wrote a piece pointing out that most digital natives are not particularly valuable to advertisers because they don’t pay any real attention. Everyone loves measuring trackbacks and impressions, but just because you can measure these things doesn’t mean you should, because the world today has spawned what he calls a glance-and-click culture. This culture probably began with TV channel-surfing and extends all the way to hopping between six parties in a night out and chatroulette’s amusingly callous ‘nexting’ of people. We think we are cramming more valuable, interesting and entertaining content into our lives but all we are doing is devoting less time to any one thing. The speed of internet connectivity cannot change the amount of hours in a day and so something has to give. So far it’s been our attention spans, patience, focus and concentration.
And I don’t decry this from a marketing point of view. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the pressure is on for marketers to be quick and add value. It’s actually exciting that it’s harder to get – and hold – people’s attention, because it ups the game and means we have to work harder to deliver only what is relevant, only when it is relevant – and to invest in people as the real communication channel.
But I really don’t think this constant distraction is going to do us any favours as a species, or as individuals. Glance-and-click may be the only way to feel you’re getting a taste of the flood of content available, but nothing of true value is experienced in ten seconds. I've noticed I now skip tracks on my ipod before they’re even finished because I’m bored and want to move on, and I constantly get impatient the moment someone answers my call because the conversation is taking up too much of my time. I used to meditate enough to remember that true peace and contentment come from sustained and intense concentration on one thing. Your breath. Or a sound. Focusing all of your attention on what you are doing right now enables you to live in the present, and that has profoundly transformative abilities. It’s no coincidence that artists lock themselves away, or that Jesus disappeared into the desert for so many years; everything, from works of artistic genius to spiritual contentment, comes from focus and attention.
So I was very amused to read of a new app that enables people to disconnect by disabling internet connectivity for a predefined amount of time (and its password protected for the junkies who crack). Avoiding distraction requires serious discipline because distraction is easier than just being. And now that even our most remote corners have been connected up (you get 3G in the Transkei!), there’s nowhere to hide. You’ve gotta make the decision yourself and can’t rely on geography to liberate you.
So I'm going to bite the bullet and close TweetDeck, shut down my mail, turn off my blackberry and try to smell, feel, hear and see where I really am right now. Hell, for this long weekend, I even plan on forcing myself to listen to some classical music; music that takes ten minutes, not ten seconds, to get to the point. I hope I can find the patience to be content.