New for 2020 – Podcasts!
From January 2020 I’m recording each post as a podcast, in addition to the written version which you can continue to read as usual. I’m also gradually adding selected posts from the archive (going back to 2009) as podcasts. Click here or on the Podcasts tab in the navigation bar.
This blog is called A Few Kind Words because the word kindness originally meant being kin, or kindred, or of the same kind. And since we are all humankind, we should remember to be kinder to one another when we communicate. The alternative is to be unkind, to use language which fails to connect or even alienates. The choice isn’t hard. (The header artwork is by wife, Sarah.)
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Hyper-connectivity is not a word I’d heard until yesterday lunch-time, or if I had, it hadn’t registered.
It has now.
I was listening to three writers talking on Radio 4 about how our lives are being affected by our unprecedented exposure to information and to each other. They were an American writer who had realised that it was jeopardising his family relationships and has since written a best-selling book on the subject, a young journalist who admitted, among other things, that her smartphone had got her through the isolation of early motherhood, and a columnist who considers himself ‘not quite a luddite’, yet still can’t organise his email and only reluctantly uses a mobile phone.
They all had interesting, thoughtful things to say about the phenomenon and they were all more or less in agreement that hyper-connectivity has benefits, including the capacity to open up new neural pathways in the brain; but they also agreed that if we don’t manage it well it can be harmful. There were three phrases that particularly stuck in my mind: ‘the traffic jam inside my head’, ‘we need to get back into our bodies’, and ‘we run the risk of not thinking deeply any more’.
In general, I like it all. I’ve come to see the the Internet, email, texting, Twitter, LinkedIn as essential tools of my trade and I believe that I couldn’t make a living without them; but I also enjoy them and find them stimulating. Nevertheless, they dominate much of my waking day and I recognise that they’re responsible for the constant feeling of slight breathlessness that I now seem to live with.
The ‘traffic jam’ I know only too well, and I try – not always successfully – to respond to it by shunting the unnecessary stuff to the back of the queue (and my mind). The ‘getting back in my body’, which is actually the antidote to the traffic jam, I do mainly by swimming and playing the piano. It’s the ‘thinking deeply’ that I find more of a problem.
I’m particularly conscious of it this week because I’ve just received the first copies of Room 121, my new book, co-written with John Simmons. Those three months over last winter when we were writing it, exchanging on an almost daily basis the blog posts that form each chapter, were a period of deep thinking because the time was ring-fenced; it had to be or we wouldn’t have met our deadline. And I’m proud of what we created because I believe that, thanks to that deep thought, the book goes way beyond the professional remit expressed in the sub-title: a masterclass in writing and communicating in business. At its core it’s a book about being true to oneself, about finding an authentic voice whatever one does, business leader or bus driver.
But as soon as we finished it, hyper-connected life crashed back into the almost sacred space we had created for ourselves and the deep thinking time was lost. Now I’m left with the frustration that while my life seems particularly rich in experience, my resulting view of the world feels only half-formed because I don’t have enough time to reflect on it. I know I need time to think deeply in order to do what I do better, and I know that hyper-connectivity is the main reason I don’t have it.
This strikes me as being one of the really big issues at this moment in our development as human beings; the way we choose to deal with it will be crucial to the direction society takes next. Yet perhaps my personal response to it needs be nothing more complicated than this: just write another book.
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I'm just off to drive down to Falmouth in Cornwall for the 26 Flavours launch. Ridiculously I'm looking forward to the six-hour plus drive because I'll be away from email, phone, twitter for that time. I find running is my way of creating some thinking space too.Agree with your comments on the book. It was a pleasure to write it. Many thanks, jamie. let's hope it will also be a pleasure to read it.John
Excellent piece as always.I bought myself an iPad last week – or rather, it finally arrived last week – so that I had another way of writing when out and about.I've since been reflecting on the "cool" new ways of working that this impressive piece of technology is urging me to adopt: electronic diaries for every area of my life, synched across all my devices; details of every project at my fingertips, wherever I happen to be; ways of generating ideas, planning stories and creating, all achieved without paper and pen.The iPad certainly gives me more efficient ways of achieving work tasks, but I don't think those digitised ways of working are necessarily any more effective – not for me, at least. And its ability to automate certain activities does seem to strip out a lot of simple, everyday creative thought and reflection.If I write a to do list on paper, I have to think about it: how should I use my time, what are my real priorities, how do I balance my goals with the expectations of others? The act of writing the list is a moment for reflection. But if the computer generates the list for me, I just perform the tasks it offers.The iPad has been a surprisingly good writing tool, but yesterday I went out and bought a new paper diary, some sticky labels, glue and coloured pens. Sometimes analogue is better.
Without my iPad wirelessly connected and instantly bursting into life, I would not be able to read your thought provoking blogs here in America with ease as the sun steams through my window on a gorgeous Friday morning.Apple has changed our worlds, for in the space of several years the iPhone, iPad, soon to be released icloud has increased the pace of our lives at Iwarp speed. Additionally some of us have gone iglobal which has radically changed our work lives with calls at 5am and 10pm.The answer was hinted in your excellent piece, and that is to recognize when to erect iboundaries. Nobody else can do it but ourselves, because the world will think we are still iconnected until we signal to ourselves and to everyone else that amid the chaos that itime is truly my time.is that an ifish on the end of my line or just I fish ?
I'm constantly thinking that I should set aside some regular time that is 'allowed' to be simply creative time, whether that's every week, month or simply one holiday per year that's dedicated to writing, and doesn't allow the rest of the world to impinge.Of course, this so rarely happens in practice – but I think this post has just inspired me to make sure I do this on one day this month.
@Rowena, that sounds like a good plan. If you can't find a full day, maybe try this: when creatively blocked for a while last year, I began a regime that I called "random acts of creativity". I pledged to find a moment every day – at least five minutes, usually no more than ten – when I would do something random and creative. It all had to be done "in the moment": no planning, no expectations. It worked a treat.
What a great idea, Neil – love it! I'm booking that in from today.
I feel your pain Jamie! I'm struggling with the same and it looks like a lot of others are too. If you haven't already, you may find River of Stones an interesting way of connecting again with deep thinking: http://ariverofstones.blogspot.com/p/about.htmlI haven't yet – but it's on my to-do list, on iCal, iPhone, filofax, electronic online schedule …..