For the past year or so the Living Unplugged team have been theorising and exploring the downsides to an “always-on” culture driven by technology. For me the exploration has been incredibly eye opening. Whilst there wasn’t one key moment which led me down the unplugged route there are certainly some clear themes which, as they reoccurred across my social media feeds, led me to make some decisions about my smartphone and device usage. One of the most interesting of these is the “me, me, me” attitude. Even as I write this opening paragraph I am cringing at the number of times I have used the word “I” or “me”. The fact is that we have become an inherently selfish society.
A recent study published by Harvard University hypothesised that “People derive intrinsic value from communicating information about themselves to other people.” The study showed that “Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system”. Essentially they found that talking about ourselves gives us pleasure. Not only that, the percentage at which we talk about ourselves almost doubles when we are on social media. What this means is that the emotional rewards we get (likes, shares, comments etc) validate us talking about ourselves and make us do it more often.
Is email making it all about you?
So what does this mean for the workplace? Well, I work in an agency. Most of our communications are done over email. In previous jobs I have had email, internal chat systems, open access and encouraged use of social media. All of which are supposed to make communication easier and more efficient but in a service based industry are we missing a fundamental point? That being that email, social, internal chats all encourage a more selfish outlook to communications. You are more inclined to use email to talk about what you’ve done rather than interact with colleagues and clients on what they’re doing. Could it be that if we unplug our communications and take a more analogue approach to communicating we could actually develop stronger working teams built on sharing of ideas?
Mad Men is to blame
In the golden age of advertising, as romanticised by the Mad Men series (which I am currently re-watching) the meetings and face to face conversations are at the forefront of the communications process. What strikes me about this more analogue approach is that you’re twice as likely to listen to a client or a colleague face to face than you are over an email or a digital communication because you’re less inclined to be broadcasting about yourself. This approach would surely be beneficial, and could in fact streamline production as teams would be more informed and prepared for the tasks at hand. Not only that, the turning back of the clock to a more analogue communications system would help to alleviate miscommunication of tonality, missed emails and could potentially help with the ever growing data overload we face in the digital era.
Could this approach help with FOMO?
It’s not just the “me, me, me” issue we face with digital communications. We are also in the grasp of a fear of missing out (FOMO) epidemic. This information overload has led us to rely on email and digital communications to, paradoxically, provide both stress and relief. On the one hand our growing inboxes leave us feeling overwhelmed yet they validate our place in the office and we wear our email numbers like badges of honour. Too many and you’re stressed, too few and you’re worried you’re not valuable enough.
However, our email inboxes and the reliance we have on them means we are struggling with an overabundance of information. This means having to deal with issues in a disconnected way. Imagine you have a client who sends three emails. One is about budget, one is about a piece of content and one is about a future campaign. While all of these pieces of information are indeed related to the same thing our brain is having to focus on each one individually, working harder to process all the information in one go. We are simply not paying enough attention to all that information.
The flow of an analogue conversation around those three same issues would potentially allow us to ask questions, listen and process in a much shorter time period, leaving us more satisfied with the outcome of the communication.
Three ways to start exploring an unplugged workplace culture
- Top down culture of minimal internal emailing – In order for a real shift to happen within a workplace it needs to come from, and be supported by, the top tiers of management. By setting an example of minimising internal emails and taking the initiative to discuss projects in person it’s possible to lead the culture change more effectively
- Unplugged Friday – Setting a day for teams to reconnect regularly can help facilitate natural and informal meetings and collaboration.
- Ditch the internal messaging services – Start paring back the digital communications. Helping to remove the temptation can be the catalyst your business needs.
Living Unplugged is not about tearing down technology, it is about reassessing its use and developing a healthier relationship with digital communications. In turn we believe that our workplaces and lives can improve, reducing stress and increasing productivity as we make that change.