Please Stop Talking

Being "connected" sucks. It is highly overrated and getting old fast.

I am tired of people using their BlackBerries in meetings. I am really tired of getting useless social networking updates on people I barely know ("Bob is playing with his dog."). Most of all, I am tired of this self-righteous, misguided notion that wearing a Bluetooth hands-free dongle in your ear somehow makes you important.

I don't care about Bob, or his dog. I also don't care about the boring conversations of Bluetooth-wearing loud talkers. Collectively, we need to get rid of technology as fashion accessory and demand a little peace and quiet.

We have become an ADHD nation. The constant fragmentation of our already short attention span is a really dangerous trend. Not only does it reduce the quality of meetings and conversations, it also creates serious challenges for marketers.

In a brilliant article in Forbes titled "Can You Hear Me Now?" Sherry Turkle of MIT compellingly argued that this new era of hyper-connectedness is just a façade. While we have increasingly more means of instant communication, we are building less meaningful relationships.



We have become a nation that is a mile wide and an inch deep. We use social networking to get updates on people without having to take the time to actually talk to them. We send text messages in place of conversations. Worse, we are often already in a conversation when we send them. And don't get me started on Twitter.
If our society continues to divide its attention into ever-smaller chunks, the marketing industry is in for a rude awakening.

It is not hard to imagine that 10 years from now, all video will be delivered over the Web. Most magazines and newspapers will as well. Consumers will sit behind a fat broadband pipe getting email, instant messages, social networking updates, and text messages while simultaneously consuming Web sites or video. Good luck getting their attention.

While this trend may be impossible to reverse, the solution for marketers is to steer into the skid. Marketing that appears next to content will get ignored. Marketing is going to have to become deeply integrated into the communication platforms.

Most publishers are woefully unprepared for this change. The majority of content Web sites today lack even a basic Application Programming Interface (API) that would allow an advertiser to integrate simple widgets. It is critical that publishers expose APIs to enable advertisers to modify your user interface (within set limitations, obviously), and create widgets or full interactive applications that can run on your Web sites.

Deep integrations will enable publishers and advertisers to work more closely together than they have in the past to capture unprecedented consumer attention -- and, more importantly, unprecedented revenue.

Instead of Fandango paying for TV commercials that consumers skip past with their DVR, they could integrate a widget into movie content sites that enables users to get notifications of upcoming movies, buy tickets, and invite their friends. They could be part of the conversation, not stuck in the corner drinking punch and watching everyone else dance.

Why would anyone pay to reach 100% of consumers watching a TV show, when only a small percentage is paying attention? Advertisers that use traditional advertising are increasingly throwing money away.

The attention span problem is already visible in younger generations, who were raised with broadband and multitasking as the norm. It has gotten so bad that college admissions officers are receiving admission application essays with text messaging abbreviations ('I g2g 2 Harvard, I'd do gr8!').

As I become more conscious of my own technology-driven ADHD, I have started to seek changes. Five years ago, I developed an idea I called "real time." Consciously spending a block of time just focused on the moment. Every year since, I have taken a vacation in a location that had no cell phone reception, no Internet access, and often, no running water.

In a few days I am leaving for two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania to climb the Lemosho Route up Mt. Kilimanjaro and then go on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater. I won't have a laptop, cell phone, or Internet access, but I guarantee I will have a lot of meaningful conversations.

Are you tired of always being connected? Let me know in the comments section below.

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