I was at a primary school in Bristol last week and on the wall was a pictorial feature about ‘No Pen Day’. The children had to spend the day reading, listening and talking, not hunched over a jotter in silence. It looked like great fun judging by the faces in the photos.
It was a children’s equivalent to ‘No Email Day’. A day when we are encouraged to get out from behind our computers, iPhones and iPads to actually talk to each other. And, perhaps more importantly, listen.
A staggering 294billion emails are sent every day according to research carried out in April 2010 (so you can bet that figure is considerably higher now) . That’s 90trillion a year. Granted, a lot of these are spam but it’s still a mind boggling number. It’s been estimated each mobile phone user sends on average 10 texts a day - and I am sure we all know some people who must send 10 times that.
Email is quick, efficient and easy. Texting is often cheaper than calling. Being able to download information while on the move and stay in touch is a godsend and has undoubtedly made us more effective in many ways.
But how often do we hide behind email as a way of avoiding direct contact – exploiting its ability to gain a stay of execution for something we haven’t gotten round to doing or are just plain putting off? Communication’s equivalent to “the cheque’s in the post”… ”I sent that email this morning, didn’t you get it?”
Are we losing the art of talking and listening? Of really communicating? Are we losing the ability to spend quality time with each other, time not punctuated by and dictated to by the constant ping of incoming email, distracting us from the real sound of thoughts buzzing, ideas being formulated, debates being aired? Is the omnipresent smartphone winking away devilishly at us preventing us for being ‘in the present’ whether at work or at home?
How many meetings do you sit through where everyone feels compelled to keep agreeing with each other, constantly interjecting, rather than keeping quiet till they have a real point to be made? How many times do you come away feeling that no one was actually hearing what anyone else was saying?
How often do you witness a colleague pick the phone up to another colleague who sits literally a few steps away – or sends them an email?
As the saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth because we should be listening twice as hard as we’re talking. At least there is one primary school that is trying instil this in tomorrow’s businessmen and women – for which we should all be grateful.