It stands to reason that the world is spinning quicker these days. Instant gratification is the new mantra of life and the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am way of existence has permeated through the fabric of life in every sphere. My boss wants e-mails to be Blackberry friendly (that is, amenable to be read on the handheld without exercising the scroll-thumb too much), Murdoch wants the WSJ to not carry forward stories from the first page and Twitter demands that your posts be kept to below 140 characters. It merits investigation if the demand for brevity is a manifestation of our increasing disability to hold concentration over longer periods.
It is difficult to not notice that the world around us has become chatty. From the languid letters to terse e-mails to omnipresent instant messaging to the alphabet soup of txt (sms) messages – our communication styles has pared down to our attention span. Or is it the other way around?
A cursory glance at our main media of communications would reveal that we are being pushed to multi-threaded thinking. E-mails have (a) a subject line (b) distribution list (both “To” and “Cc”) (c) possibly (multiple) attachments (d) the text body and (e) (possibly) hyperlinks in the text body. The reader of the message has to successfully process and decipher information coming in from these several dimensions. It is not easy to concentrate attention into one of these threads. With brain processing power not increasing proportionately to thread-multiplication, it surprises little that we demand communications to be brief. Goodbye to deep thinking.
The diabolical force of attention scatter is amplified by chatty systems that have become part of our existence. E-mails keep hitting our Inboxes incessantly and it is virtually impossible to abstain from opening them up as they happen. Each such digression scatters attention and the pattern soon creates multiple branches of thought, slowly removing the thinker from the original thread.
Then there is Google. We can search for virtually everything in there and it has provided us with the ubiquitous replacement of thought. Why think when you can google? A click here and a flirt with a hyperlink there give us what earlier used to take days of painstaking research. Google is supporting the degeneration of the mind (because someday Google will be the mind) and is indeed making us stupid.
Senior executives, who by the virtue of their exalted cerebral capabilities should have been immersed in deep thinking about tomorrow, spend most of their days “doing” e-mail. In other words, spreading intellectual capabilities thin all over the Inbox. At the other end of the spectrum, software developers probably would love to get specifications written in txt shorthand. A Use Case document is a much heavy for them to read as it would be virtually impossible for a Business Analyst to produce.
The world we live in was created by deep thinkers and even today we are either urged or urge others to “think through” a problem. It is not easy for us to do that if we succumb helplessly to this chatty world. Reclaim your mind – maybe just shut down Outlook for 4 hours each day.