For many years, my wife and I have enjoyed hosting wine parties. We open our home to neighbors, friends and colleagues. We share the best wines from our favorite vineyards of Napa and Sonoma, California. We enjoy great appetizers and fine food that Sue has prepared. At the heart of our evening are the rich conversations we have with others.
It has occurred to us, however, that while we love hosting these parties, rarely does anyone reciprocate.
We’re not alone.
Last week, I had a long-overdue lunch in Chicago with a colleague. He recently took a new job on the East Coast, where he lives during the week. When he moved into his apartment, rather than sitting home alone, he decided to build new friendships by inviting neighbors out for dinner. “It’s been great, and I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “But I’ve noticed that no one ever returns the invitation.”
Dinner or party invitations that never come. Emails that go unanswered. Phone calls and voice messages that go unreturned.
What happened to common courtesy and respect? They lie buried beneath the rubble of our 24-7/365 world, where data and information wash over us like a tsunami.
One day, the legendary Al Golin came to my office and sat down for a conversation about engaging others. “I find it odd,” he said, “that the guy down the hall leaves me a voice message instead of sticking his head in my office to have a real conversation.” Al warned of the danger of allowing the tools of technology to replace “high-touch,” numbing us to authentic relationships with the people who matter in our daily lives.
Information overload is destroying our ability to relate to others.
With 24-hour news cycles, blogs, podcasts, social networks, YouTube videos and more, it’s hard not to be bogged down with news, messages and minutiae. The average employee receives 121 emails, dozens of calls and voice messages, multiple meeting requests and a steady stream of text messages every day. That same employee needs to check messages from multiple phones and e-mail accounts. Then there’s the crush of social media: HostingFacts tells us that more than 500 million tweets are sent, 5 billion Google searches are made, and more than 4 million blog posts are published every day.
A Quora blogger summarized our “always on” world best in saying:
“Our lives are so fast paced, we multitask, we communicate in abbreviated ways blindly. We have dumbed down our verbiage. We don’t eat meals together, we rarely attend church, we don’t know our neighbors, bullying is rampant, we are just hurtling through the days at break-neck speed…I’m not sure how to articulate why I see a correlation with etiquette and reverence for others worthy of respect, but our lives have us isolated and busy and hard driven and forgetful of simplicity.”
Which brings us back to the wine party invitation never reciprocated and the dinner invitation not returned.
How we connect to information is increasingly affecting how we connect with others in our professional and personal lives. A University of Michigan study found that college students were 40 per cent less empathetic than generations past. As Time wrote in reporting on the study: “We are becoming more self-absorbed, with less ability to take the perspective of others. Whether cause or reflection, social media and reality television further reinforces, rewards and celebrates this ever-growing narcissism.”
Remarkably, that Michigan research was first published in 2010. Fast forward to 2019. A decade later, those same students have ascended through the workforce ranks to become managers who are, unsurprisingly, less empathetic to their co-workers than past generations of leaders.
We have to curate our lives better. Some days, we must feel free to ignore the streams of information and data (while not ignoring emails and plaintiff calls from our boss or clients). We need to filter information with a ruthless abandon. We can never allow information overload to prevent us from taking decisions or actions because we feel we have too much information to consume.
And we can’t allow it to numb us to the people and relationships around us.
As Al Golin said, “We can’t allow high-tech to replace high-touch.”