My son recently announced that he was considering quitting Facebook because it takes up too much time and disconnects him from the real world. He is a filmmaker and has to pitch to investors and secure talent. Talking to people is important. The amount of time he spends ‘keeping up appearances’ on social media in the hope of connecting with the right people is not sustainable.
I largely agree with him; however, today’s brave new hyper-linked and super connected world of broadband, digital highways and virtual reality has opened up possibilities that I never could have imagined when I set up my first business, a public relations consultancy, 30 years ago. I belong to a generation that has learned about the benefits of technology ‘on the job’.
I struggled at first and DOS was digital double Dutch to me until Windows was launched and everything became very intuitive. I remember having a considered discussion about whether we should buy a telex or fax machine for the office. Opting for the latter I was impressed by the speed at which we could sign off press releases for our clients. Now this can all be done in seconds on one small tablet that fits into the palm of my hand.
I was immensely proud and even a little bit smug about owning my first ever mobile phone which was the size of a building brick and required a heavy battery pack double the size of the actual phone. Communicating with the press from the middle of a field was a high point. This was symbolic of yuppie 1980s one-upmanship, when everybody was an early-adopter and we had no idea of how close to today’s Star Trek technologies we were to become.
For every positive there is a negative and the pressure of 24/7 connectivity is inevitably taking its toll. While technology is exciting – what would a Hollywood blockbuster be like without CGI and surround sound – it also controls our lives at the most fundamental level. The first thing I do when I wake up and the last before I go to sleep is to look at my iPhone. It is my alarm clock, newsfeed, map, diary and desktop and I admit that I would be lost without it.
I am not about to go off with Bear Grylls to an uninhabited island with a group of strangers to find out what life would be like without technology, but I do want to explore how we can achieve work life balance and get some real-life face time back into
In the traditional male female ‘hunter gatherer’ model of society, the men go off to hunt while the women run the encampment gathering water, foraging and cooking, until they all come together to eat and communicate around the campfire. Now that we are so well connected virtually, we are in danger of losing the important social face to face interaction that is key to our survival.
Seeing the hapless participants of endless reality television programmes stranded in the jungle or confined to the Big Brother house without a mobile phone demonstrates how important it is to actually talk to each other. It can make or break a community. Ease of verbal communication remains a vital and integral part of modern day life.
A positive side effect is that technology blurs the lines between gender, race, age and ability. As women we have opened the door on our intrinsically feminine circle of listening, exchanging and storytelling through social media. The history of so many cultures has been passed down through the circular campfires conversations of women and these balance the formal documentation of masculine achievements of dominance, war and ownership.
The campfir conversation is the model for my Stand Up to Stand Out workshop where I encourage people to listen, exchange thoughts and ideas, express themselves, interpret the nuances of language and think on their feet. In business we are often conditioned not to always say what we really think but we all need a safe space to create, explore and experiment with our ideas though self-expression and language.
Words are not cheap and instead of putting them into text messages, WhatsApp and emails, we need to say them to each other, see our facial expressions, react by laughing or crying and celebrate the gift of conversation. Getting back in the circle has to be a metaphor for a happier and healthier life.
Then there is the whole loaded question of whether or not technology contributes to the epidemic of poor mental health. Increased methods of communication has increased awareness and we can self-diagnose, analyse, explore and exploit our human condition to the point where a positive becomes a negative. Even though we know far more about the human brain than ever, nothing beats talking when it comes to putting the world to rights.
As well as pursuing my own talking based initiatives, there are lots of other brilliant projects that feed into the need to balance technology with verbal communication and cultivate good mental and physical health.
For example, Penny Power OBE is the founder of The Business Café, a communal local space where all generations will be able to work together and exchange skills. I love the reverse mentoring model where older people can benefit from the ease with which younger people access technology, and in return pass on some practical and verbal communications skills that are getting lost in our fast-paced business environment.
The second is Bryony Gordon, the Telegraph columnist and author responsible for that revealing interview with HRH Prince Harry, who has set up an initiative called Mental Health Mates. She encourages people to form informal groups to walk and talk together on the basis that exercise and communication improves mental health.
Being in your own head and body space with no mobile technology to distract you aids creativity. Our brains are consistently bombarded by so much information and stimuli and whilst headphones are great to access your favourite music and podcasts there is also much to be gained by listening to what is going on around you. Our hunter gatherer ancestors relied on listening out for danger in order to survive and speech and sound is the foundation of today’s modern society.
My own business Funny Women has been specialising in giving
women their voice through comedy since 2002 and we have changed the landscape of the comedy industry. We now run workshops in the workplace to improve confidence, help people to speak in public, chair meetings, create more diverse communities and build cohesive teams. Men are welcome into our female led business environment and we encourage them to listen so that they can establish first-hand how women think, feel and communicate in a working environment.
Virtual socialising is not the answer when it comes to meaningful working relationships. Face to face is the way forward. I would choose a chat over a cup of coffee or even a walk any day.
Please visit funnywomen.com for information about our workshops and workplace initiatives and www.lynneparker.co.uk to read about the other things that I do.
Lynne Parker founder of Funny Women