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.