First, I confess to both using all the new communications tools (albeit not so well) and to yearning for a simpler age when a short hand-written note offered the perfect way to send a thoughtful message.
I know those days are gone forever but since I am in the middle of reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and catching up on the New York Magazine cover story of May 25th titled “The Attention Crisis – And Why Distraction May Actually Be Good For You”, by Sam Anderson – I am struck by a sense of how profoundly communications has changed in just the past several years alone. For those who haven’t read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, it offers a masterfully crafted piece of fiction that serves as a great lesson in the power of letter writing (as well as a delicious read). Reading it reminded me of how much we are losing with the demise of this simple, personal, time-consuming, contemplative form of communications.
On the other hand, the rapidly expanding universe of technology-based communications tools makes it so easy to correspond with and to engage in real-time conversations with anyone, anywhere. Yet, as the New York magazine article reports, in 1971 noted polymath economist, Herbert A. Simon presciently said, “What information consumes is the rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
So, is this new age of communications helping or robbing us of our ability to pay attention to the things that matter most? Does it mean that increasingly our communications will be defined by Twitter-like character-count limitations and the requirement to respond with immediacy? Will the competition for our attention render us less responsive? Dilute our interest? Or will we evolve to become a hyper-species with an uber-strong brain muscle able to absorb and retain more information and create a new language that requires fewer words yet keeps the meaning of them?
I don’t know how this will all come out. I leave it to time and history to judge. In the meantime, I will just keep writing in the ways that I think best convey my intent and keep the interest of my reader. In the end, I guess that is all anyone can do. Write me a letter if you are so inclined.
Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.