It seems that the ways/channels/technologies we choose for creating, maintaining and building relationships generally adhere to a kind of nebulous hierarchy. Not always, but typically, we select the mode for our communication according to our own consciously or subconsciously prioritised relationship hierarchy; there are some people we always make sure we meet up with and talk to directly and others we simply keep at text message or email distance.
Of course, this hierarchical structure would vary on an individual basis and with the purpose of communication, as well as other things, but typically it would probably look something like this for most people [in order of priority]:
1. The old-fashion, face-to-face conversation
• In-home: dinner/coffee
• Dinner out of home
• Coffee out of home
2. The voice call/video call conversation
3. The Skype-type IP telephony conversation
4. The online chat – MS/Yahoo Messenger
5. The text/MMS message
6. The Facebook-type message
7. The email message
8. The multiple recipient email/Facebook massage
9. Mass media communication[!?]
The good old-fashioned snail mail letter isn’t even on the list since a lot of people below the age of 20 have never received one in their entire life. But I suspect it would actually end up near the very top given the relative effort involved. It would for me anyway.
Whilst technology has made it possible to transcend both time and space in a multitude of ways [which is great for a number of reasons] I can’t help but feel that all these options have also dehumanised the way we interact with our fellow human beings. No, I’m not joking.
I believe the highest form of human interaction can transcend neither time nor space. Though technology has allowed us to keep a large quantity of relationships ‘alive’ [an acceptable level of messaging frequency is maintained to warrant some level of perceived connection] and given us fantastic opportunities to connect with people from all over the planet, this may actually prevent us from connecting with the most significant people in our lives on a fundamental human level the way only a tech-free, face-to-face conversation can make possible.
People now email their colleagues seated a few meters away in the office instead of talking to them. Many of us socialise in front of computer screens instead of human faces. And while we do get to engage in face-to-face conversations with people we prioritise, these conversations are sadly often distracted by messages in various shapes and forms from the wider, technology-enabled sphere of acquaintances [many of whom aren’t really that important to us].
What’s going on here and what does this mean? Well, I can only tell you for certain what it means to me. You’ve got to figure out what it means to you. What I do know for a fact is that we all feel more important and valued when we enjoy our friends’ undivided attention. And yet most of us seem to struggle to deliver on it.
Brands are generally not great at making us feel prioritised and special as people/customers either. Some do it a lot better than others, but due to the commercial reality in which they exist, it’s hard for brands to give us their undivided, personal attention the way that makes us feel really special. Most brands have to ‘settle’ for mass media communication [#9] and make the best of it. But that’s a separate issue all together.
In creative agencies where people are concerned, however, the room for improvement is enormous. From a creative standpoint, it’s an undisputable truth that great things happen when people talk to each other. Agencies that have a collaborative, inclusive, conversational culture are the ones that create the greatest work. This is the kind of agency culture I want to be part of and shape.
Even if it would be close to impossible to measure, I would say that the quality of an agency’s creative is likely to correlate strongly with the quality and quantity of conversations that have taken place in the development of that work. This means conversations between planners, creatives and suits. A silo-like, compartmentalised work culture, fueled by email communication, inflated egos and politics is anything but conducive to creativity.
So people, when we begin the new year in a few days time, let’s all vow to talk more with each other: to have more conversations. Because both relationships and creativity thrive on them! And let’s also become better at prioritising our time so that those significant few who really mean the world to us can have the undivided attention they deserve.