While I was using some Toffler wisdom and words <see Armageddon post:
http://brucemctague.com/madness-in-the-world-armageddon-and-a-dose-of-reality > I noted there was an interesting snippet in one of his books on communication overload … he called it <because this was 1980> “the paper blizzard.”
I imagine I am using this as a ‘perspective’ post or observation.
We are always complaining about communication overload between texts and emails and phone and carrier pigeons.
Here is the funny thing … okay … the interesting thing … well … we have always bitched and moaned about it.
I brought up good ole Toffler from 1980 because he gives us some historical perspective on communications as well as some real numbers.
In addition … he also points out that this ‘blizzard of communications’ actually provides a common structure throughout global cultures.
Say what? All this paperwork <electronic communications> and overwhelming no-time to look at all stuff is cultural? Yup.
All human groups, from primitive times to today, depend on face-to-face, person-to-person communication. But systems were needed for sending messages across time and space as well. The ancient Persians are said to have set up towers or “call posts,” placing men with shrill, loud voices atop them to relay messages by shouting from one tower to the next. The Romans operated an extensive messenger service called the cursus publicus. Between 1305 and the early 1800′s, the House of Taxis ran a form of pony express service all over Europe. By 1628 it employed twenty thousand men. Its couriers, clad in blue and silver uniforms, crisscrossed the continent carrying messages between princes and generals, merchants and money lenders.
During First Wave civilization all these channels were reserved for the rich and powerful only. Ordinary people had no access to them. As the historian Laurin Zilliacus states, even “attempts to send letters by other means were looked upon with suspicion or . . . forbidden” by the authorities. In short, while face-to-face information exchange was open to all, the newer systems used for carrying information beyond the confines of a family or a village were essentially closed and used for purposes of social or political control. They were, in effect, weapons of the elite.
The Second Wave, as it moved across country after country, smashed this communications monopoly. This occurred not because the rich and powerful grew suddenly altruistic but because Second Wave technology and factory mass production required “massive” movements of information that the old channels simply could no longer handle.
The information needed for economic production in primitive and First Wave societies is comparatively simple and usually available from someone near at hand. It is mostly oral or gestural hi form. Second
Wave economies, by contrast, required the tight coordination of work done at many locations. Not only raw materials but great amounts of information had to be produced and carefully distributed.
For this reason, as the Second Wave gained momentum every country raced to build a postal service. The post office was an invention quite as imaginative and socially useful as the cotton gin or the spinning jenny and, to an extent forgotten today, it elicited rhapsodic enthusiasm. The American orator Edward Everett declared: “I am compelled to regard the Post office, next to Christianity, as the right arm of our modern civilization.” For the post office provided the first wide open channel for industrial-era communications. By 1837 the British Post Office was carrying not merely messages for an elite but some 88 million pieces of mail a year …an avalanche of communications by the standards of the day.
By 1960 the third wave the industrial era peaked and the Third Wave began its surge, that number had already climbed to 10 billion. That same year the U.S. Post Office was distributing 355 pieces of domestic mail for every man, woman, and child in the nation. The surge in postal messages that accompanied the industrial revolution merely hints, however, at the real volume of information that began to flow in the wake of the Second Wave.
An even greater number of messages poured through what might be called “micro-postal systems” within large organizations. Memos are letters that never reach the public communications channels. In 1955, as the Second Wave crested in the United States, the Hoover Commission peeked inside the files of three major corporations. It discovered, respectively, 34 thousand, 56 thousand, and 64 thousand documents and memos on file for each employee on the payroll!
Nor could the mushrooming informational needs of industrial societies be met in writing alone. Thus the telephone and telegraph were invented hi the nineteenth century to carry then: share of the ever swelling communications load.
By 1960 Americans were placing some 256 million phone calls per day — over 93 billion a year – and even the most advanced telephone systems and networks in the world were often over loaded. All these were essentially systems for delivering messages from one sender to one receiver at a time.
What was next? A society developing mass production and mass consumption needed ways to send mass messages and communications from one sender to many receivers simultaneously. Unlike the preindustrial employer, who could personally visit each of his handful of employees in their own homes if need be, the industrial employer could not communicate with his thousands of workers on a one-by-one basis. Still less could the mass merchandiser or distributor communicate with his customers one by one. Second Wave society needed and not surprisingly invented powerful means for sending the same message to many people at once, cheaply, rapidly, and reliably.
This gap came to be filled by the mass media. In the mass media, from newspapers and radio to movies and television, we find once again an embodiment of the basic principle of the factory. All of them stamp identical messages into millions of brains, just as the factory stamps out identical products for use in millions of homes. This meant standardized, mass manufactured “facts,” counterparts of standardized mass manufactured products, flow from a few concentrated image factories out to millions of consumers.
Without this vast, powerful system for channeling information, industrial civilization could not have taken form or functioned reliably. Thus there sprang up in all industrial societies, capitalist and socialist alike, an elaborate info-sphere — communication channels through which individual and mass messages could be distributed as efficiently as goods or raw materials. This info-sphere intertwined with and serviced the techno-sphere and the socio-sphere, helping to integrate economic production with private behavior.
Each of these spheres performed a key function in the larger system, and could not have existed without the others. The techno-sphere produced and allocated wealth; the socio-sphere, with its thousands of interrelated organizations, allocated roles to individuals in the system. And the info-sphere allocated the information necessary to make the entire system work. Together they formed the basic architecture of society. We see here in outline, therefore, the common structures of all nations — regardless of their cultural or climatic differences, regardless of their ethnic and religious heritage, regardless of whether they call themselves capitalist or communist.
<source: Alvin Toffler 1980>
Here is my point.
Whether it was the stacks of paper <memos, point of views, letters, reports, presentations, phone messages to be returned, etc.> in the good ole days or today’s hundreds of emails appearing in your inbox … our time has always been stretched with regard to communications.
We have always lived in a blizzard of communications.
And we kind of like it … and it is addictive <no matter how much we bitch & moan>.
Whoa. Like and addictive?
Remember … I wrote this in my time post http://brucemctague.com/noli-timere-business-and-life :
- Chemicals <within us>. Every time we feel our mobile phone vibrate or ring or ding … we get a small dopamine injection in our brains. Over time this serves almost like an addiction … which results in us wanting this distraction more and more. So when we aren’t being interrupted we go and seek interruptions <check our twitter accounts, Facebook, pinterest, emails> in order to re-inject the ‘doing chemical’ into our brains <and we feel good within the moments>. Oops. The trouble with this? Every time we are interrupted we need to refocus ourselves afterwards … which takes time and energy.
In the good old days communication may have been less often but I would like to point out that it was more often with increased depth <think 5 sentence email versus 5 page point of view>. Basically … more words, more thoughts and more thinking required.
All this said … I go back to my original thought on making employees successful … focus.
I could argue that the deeper you have to intensify your focus <the deeper the interruption> the more energy and time it takes to re-focus on something new.
Therefore … the communication blizzard is consistent … simply with different dynamics over time.
Which is worse <or more difficult>?
Pick your poison.
My real point?
Lets all quit bitching about technology distractions and how the world is so much more difficult today in managing all the random messages we receive and whatever we want to call the blizzard of communications we live in.
20 years ago.
40 years ago.
Are the distractions different today then they were in the past? Sure.
Are these distractions any more … well … distracting then they were in the past? No … not really.
Not all distractions are created equal. But we certainly have an equal amount of distractions.
We should all just admit we live in this blizzard … and … well … deal with it.