Always On

Originally posted on

It’s hard to find a bigger believer than me in the advances of the digital revolution and the power of the social Web. I was conducting online market research in the ’90s, and one of my early clients was America Online. More recently, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR has helped clients use Twitter to fundraise for and Facebook to bring 20-something delegates to our inaugural One Young World convention, among many other initiatives. And I love the way these tools have shaped my professional and personal life.

There’s no doubt that our new connectedness has transformed our ways of doing everything and that the tools have been a huge force for good in the world. The Red Cross raised millions for Haiti by text messages. Twitterville holds businesses accountable and forces them to behave appropriately, from customer service to corporate social responsibility. The social Web has democratized everything from creative content to small-scale philanthropy. Cell phones allowed Muscovites to quickly let loved ones know they were alive yesterday. Society would be impoverished without these ways of interacting.

So I’m not about to stop cheerleading. But I do have a confession: I’m tired.

The downside of all this connectivity is that there’s enormous pressure to be always on. We’re constantly reachable, carrying our offices and friends in our pockets and on our iPhones and CrackBerrys. We’re bombarded with news and updates and are expected to hold up our end of the conversation, right away, in real time. GPS trackers and Foursquare let everyone know where we are every minute—no lying at home in our pajamas when we’re expected to be doing something more productive (or at least becoming the mayor of something).

We use nouns as verbs—let’s “calendar” a meeting—and, OMG, we abbreviate everything. It becomes hard to focus on anything but running in place. We’re afraid that if we stop, the treadmill will keep rolling until we fall off the back.

No wonder we like that Corona commercial where the guy throws his cell phone into the ocean. It’s gotten to the point that a few savvy resorts are starting to market their disconnectedness as a selling point: Come here and no one will be able to reach you. Being unplugged (forcibly, if need be) is the ultimate vacation, the new luxury. The downside is the difficulty of taming your inbox when you return.

And short of that, it’s hard to let down our hair. The same forces that hold companies to high standards also keep us constantly on our guard. We have to watch how we look and how we behave, because photos from any event will likely end up on Facebook, and the video will be on YouTube. Any word we say can be instantly tweeted and retweeted. And who hasn’t googled a prospective romantic or business partner? It can feel as if our lives are being live-blogged and the slightest faux pas can go viral.

The other side of this is that we’ve become observers as well as participants, planning how we’re going to report on events even as we’re experiencing them. We can feel disconnected from our own lives, multitasking as we socialize.

By now we all know that studies have shown that multitasking actually makes us less productive. For me, being always on and multitasking also makes me feel dulled. Sometimes I crave doing one thing at a time.

Mar 31, 2010 | Posted by in American Life, marketing, Social Media | 0 comments

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