Sales of vinyl records are said to be growing faster at present than sales of music in any other format (if from a small base). And recent months have seen articles in many newspapers about people wanting to dump their smartphones in favour of ‘dumbphones’ – those mobiles we used to have that just handle voice calls and texts.
Are these signs of some fogeyish retro fad … or is there something more to it?
Why would people turn away from the smartphone technology? What is not to like about having access on demand – whether to news, information, music, sports, maps, travel bookings or almost anything else you can think of? And of course these devices also allow you to operate and connect across the world in ways that just would not have been possible years ago.
Who’s in charge?
I think it is to do with who is in charge. As long as you are using the phone on your own terms to inform, serve or amuse yourself that is fine. But when it begins to intrude and make demands on you – with a constant feed of messages and updates that steal your attention – then the merits are less clear cut.
There is a frequent refrain that life is getting ever faster and that nobody has any time any more. Responding to all this stuff is very time consuming – not least if you are typing with one finger.
People crave the ability to concentrate – to be able to get things done. This means being able to shut out the noise and distraction of open plan offices … but also the more insidious silent interruptions from the smartphone feed.
Back in the pre-smartphone era it was reported that John Caldwell – then boss of Phones4U – had banned the use of e-mail internally, telling employees to meet face to face or talk on the phone. He reckoned it could take ten times longer to send an e-mail than to speak the words. Abandoning the keyboard would leave the typical employee with up to three hours extra per day to concentrate on sales and customer service.
In a similar vein, our designer chum George Foster lamented recently that some art directors in agencies seem to have lost the art of drawing. They reach for the computer or iPad and then spend ages looking for stuff to download and mock up in order to show what they are talking about. This is a huge waste of time. A few strokes of a pencil could get the idea over fast so that you quickly know if you are on the right track with an idea worth developing rather than spending ages going down a route that may turn out a dead end. A rapid visualisation frees time to focus on the ideas.
Technology is seductive and rewarding. It lets you feel that you are connected, multi-tasking, busy and productive. But this divided attention is not conducive to good work. We need to focus on the right things and give them time and our best attention to achieve significant results.
The issue is perhaps that this technology is still all relatively new. The possibilities are infinite but we are still learning – as individuals and in organisations – how to use it most appropriately. Dumping the smartphone may be one way to make it work for us … instead us working for it.