Digital overload and the universal need for quiet contemplation

By digital overload we describe a scenario where our attention and interactions are being meticulously measured. This environment presents no shortage of obstacles and numerous alerts flashing with false urgency. Our behavior patterns are determined by impulse rather than conscious motivation. Contradiction permeates this new reality, since we are creating our own pit of distraction while despairing that we are so distracted. Digital overload applies to our private life as well as to our life within a community.

Cyberspace has become the realm of perpetual interruption, where software companies, application developers and scientists – the ruling forces – plot to capture our attention. Aware of the trouble, our response, like in quicksand, is to become increasingly dependent on this information-overload environment.

As highlighted by Erin Andersen, the era of “digital junkies” reveals how much we lack control over what is happening. Or, to use the author’s own term, the degree to which we are hooked to the matrix. Beyond consisting of valuable information for end-users, Andersen’s message prompts a consideration that our current information network is chaotic. In a world with 7 billion inhabitants, in contrast to 12 billion devices connected to the internet, something seems to be well out of order.

A valuable reference in illustrating the reality of chaos is shown in a special story covered by Al Jazeera’s international correspondent Phil Lavelle. In the story entitled “My digital addiction” the reporter is himself the object of an experiment, when he joins a digital detox program in California, along with other inmates caught up in the need for digital connection.

In effect, the irreversible character of technological converge and media overlapping not only triggers negative implications, such as the loss of productivity due to information-overloaded days, but it also establishes an entire new paradigm in terms of the production of knowledge.

A former politician and philosopher with views on the 24-hour knowledge cycle, Canadian Peter Nicholson underscores the significant change in which the value of expertise is interpreted. The “ethic of free” or “pay with a Tweet” is oversimplifying the production of knowledge; the market for depth is narrowing.

Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, a prominent observer and critic of post-modernity, where everything is potentially available for public consumption, reveals a striking similar view based on the formula that electronic information is currently presented and manipulated. The prospects revealed by Baumann are somewhat frightening. In what he defines as a “Global Factory of Wasted Humans,” the world will be inhabited by a generation that is not prepared to deal with a reality of professional downward mobility. Now, the value of professional expertise is lower. Labor markets are uncertain and having a stable job is more difficult.

Bauman also points to what he defines as the “death of anonymity,” courtesy of the internet. In this scenario, technology is with our encouragement invading the private sphere.

Personally, I would rather refrain from fully indulging in pessimistic views. Some events are irreversible: we have multiplied the connections, the relationships, the interdependency. We are all in a position where we are all irreversibly enmeshed with one another. However, I feel inclined to acknowledge the fact that we are long playing the role of consumers in a land of perpetual interruption and time-wasting.

Who am I to judge? I do recall having being “caught” by my wife on a Saturday (first thing in the morning) checking my Aunt Adelia’s Facebook pictures when I announced I was going to briefly check my mailbox. Another remarkable example of digital overload interaction I remember was “played” by a tech manager, back in busy times working for an Indian IT company. Surprisingly, his ill-disposed attitude in the corridors would not keep him from sending invitations to all employees to add him as a Facebook friend. A lethal combination of social media and helpless unawareness of interpersonal skills.

The relevance of the aforementioned articles to digital marketing is crucial. Organizations will need to develop mechanisms for adjusting their digital culture, promoting best practices and new ways to filter and respond to triggering agents of distraction. Even the most tempting forms of life change. All fashions should change.

An alternative to the current model is to focus on building a relationship with a potential client without the rush of confirming a purchase within a first interaction model. Marketing content will need to allow user engagement by taking into consideration their individual preferences, by following a model of gradual interactions while building a stronger connection to the brand. Marketing automation alone will only confirm the mechanism of perpetual interruption. It is essential to understand potential clients as individuals with specific needs, enabled with preferences and opinions. For that reason, there must be an appropriate moment for a sales-like approach or the “ultimate call to action.”

One cannot simply abdicate the legitimate and universal need for quiet contemplation. The consolidation of the so-called “information-rich and attention-poor” dynamics will represent the triumph of consumerism and aimless scanning versus the skills of reflection and critical thinking, among other intellectual experiences. The world of “ads,” “apps,” and “docs” – in which the rush for a digital fix prevails – leaves no room for creative thinking, leisure, adventure, individuality, or self-assessment. These are values a professional of marketing should understand, cultivate, and promote. To seduce through quality rather than by distraction.

Illustration: Pedro Henrique Ferreira

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