Can't go on vacation (or even to a movie or ball game) without checking email or logging into social media? When was the last time you spent a solid uninterrupted hour just reading a dead-tree book or magazine? A growing number of folks log into social media when they watch TV (some say in an attempt to save shows looking like they might not be renewed). A University of Chicago study found that most people say Facebook, Twitter and email are harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.
You know this is true, because you have to practically beat your kids to stop them from texting during meals (or any other time, for that matter.) But you are probably just as bad; after all, a Neverfail survey reports that more than 50% of folks say they send emails during a meal with family or friends. You probably think you're impressing your boss by being "on" 24/7, when really you are just feeding your addiction to the fear of "missing something." Perhaps there is truth in Jeff Einstein's contention that "In recent years we have entered what I call the Great Age of Addiction & Loss, an age characterized most notably by an irrefutable addiction — both as individuals and as a nation — to all things media."
Out where I live, drivers are running over and killing pedestrians because they can't resist the urge to answer the phone or send a text while behind the wheel. Back when I used to do a fair amount of distance running, if I didn't see a driver's eyes meet mine, I stepped off the road.
As advertisers, in this new media world order, we need to rethink our traditional concepts of impressions and engagement, since we are now only getting snippets of audiences' attention. Tom Cunniff, one of the smarter, more thoughtful marketers out there, earlier this week wrote that we are in "the age of Ambient Media" because all of our devices are on and available, with our attention flitting from one medium to the next, or to none at all. Everything is devolving into an endless media stream.
As individuals, we need to take a moment and disconnect. I recently took a couple of my kids on a spring break vacation and purposely left my BlackBerry at home. It was great. Since I have clients, I logged into my laptop a few times a day to make certain there were no emergencies, but I didn't read the usual endless e-blasts from the trade pubs, nor even watch TV. Never plugged into an iPod. Just read a book.
What you notice when you unplug is how utterly pervasive media is around you. On the beach, at the pools, in the restaurants, folks all around us were plugged into an electronic this or that. Suddenly, even the Muzak at every venue -- including the weight room and the spa -- was annoying.
Interestingly, the backlog of TV shows I record each week was so overwhelming on my return that I deleted about half of them and never missed a beat when I played the following week's episode.
So tuning out was not the end of the world I expected it to be. In fact it might even be beneficial. A religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania teaches a class called "Living Deliberately," which has no exams, no formal papers and little required reading. However, students are expected to modify their lifestyles with a set of restrictions drawn from monastic traditions: They must give up alcohol and refrain from using electronic communications.
Apparently, the students who enroll find that living without the Internet makes a profound difference in their lives. "Every student who has taken this class has said without exception that they have done better in their other classes, and they have been able to focus more," says the prof. "This is the best thing for their work they have ever done."