by Mark Finnern
Before air conditioning, as the sun set in the summer, you would sit on your
porch and wait for the house to cool. Everybody would be outside and you would
automatically have more interactions with your neighbors than today. With the
advent of cheap air conditioning and television that habit changed.
similar change is happening as a result of ubiquitous internet access. Breakfast
at conferences is often a place for surprise encounters with fellow participants.
Casual talk about previous and upcoming sessions is common (except of course
for those who, not yet in the mood for conversation, hide behind a newspaper).
At the O'Reilly Emerging
Technology Conference a few weeks ago wireless internet access was available
everywhere. That completely changed the breakfast scenery. Circles of laptops
formed on every table and people were united by the need for power from extension
cords. Across the table were colleagues wolfing down bagels and coffee while
weeding through their email and newsreader. For most people the electronic space
was a bigger attention grabber than a casual encounter at the breakfast table.
This is, of course, only the beginning. Through some strange coincidence I
was sitting at the lunch table with Jeff Bezos. (This sounds, unintentionally,
like name dropping; sorry.) Here is my point: someone to his right pitched an
idea to him and at least twice during the conversation he checked his Blackberry
and quickly answered some emails. This was probably to ensure his new space
Origin is on track :-)
I admit that I love to call people and chat while folding my freshly washed
clothes. What concerns me is that this semi-attention affects more and more
of our daily interactions. We get so many emails that we barely have time to
scan them. If you want to announce something under the radar screen, put it
in the third paragraph of your email and it will sail through unnoticed. Later
you can write: "But I told you that I am going to be on vacation that week.
Here is the email to prove it."
When was the last time that someone really zoomed into you? Was listening not
only to what you where saying, but also was tuned into your current mood and
all the things that remained unspoken? These people develop a deeper undestanding,
live a richer life. Troy Gardner, a friend of mine, writes in his email signature:
How you live your seconds, is how you live your days, is how you live your
life... How true.
If you want to get really good at recoginizing peoples emotions check out
Paul Ekman's new book: Emotions Revealed:
Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life.
For over 40 years he has done extensive crossculturual studies of facial
expressions. Malcolm Gladwell of The
Tipping Point fame wrote an execelent article for the
New Yorker about him and his work.
Attention is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to another person.
Give it fully and freely.
P.S. And remind me of my words if I don't :-)
It's an interesting reversal as you mentioned I hadn't thought of before: From working on the field or hot house then going out to sit on the porch swing and talk in midday sunlight, to now going into a cool cave...er an airconditioned room with artificial lighting, gathering around a table and in conferences without the insight to provide enough power strips.