Recently, I spent time talking to “Jeff.” I’ve met Jeff before. He’s a pretty normal mid-20s guy in the Bay Area. He works, he eats, he vacations, etc. This time, the subject turned to Facebook. He told me he deleted his account about a year ago.
While not unique, his reasons for deleting his Facebook account revealed something interesting: it wasn’t to escape a jealous ex, or an inability to control his Farmville addiction. It was that he wasn’t getting anything out of it. There were too many babies, sunsets, vacations and other things he didn’t care about. It was too hard to sift through the constant noise for something of real value.
Warning signs like this are all around us, revealing that all is not right with our constant state of sending, receiving and considering texts, tweets, email, likes and posts. Among the warning signs are Facebook dropouts like Jeff, the Digital Sabbath movement, Sherry Turkle’s acclaimed take on having less real connection, and The Atlantic’s, “Is Facebook making us more lonely?”
If you think about the raw numbers—like the estimated 147 emails received each day and 40 texts per day (even higher for 18-29 year olds)—plus all the liking and commenting (2.7 billion per day total), it’s not surprising that playing the digital game is causing some strain.
It all points to “connection fatigue,” a condition that comes from an overload of channels and devices, and along comes an unspoken expectation of constant updates. The result is an exhausting state of multitasking where we have to be asked multiple times what we want on our sandwich because we’re too busy texting, and where it’s proper etiquette to preemptively say someone’s name in a meeting so they know to stop multitasking and be ready to respond.
Right now, most people don’t seem to mind the lack of focus caused by this phenomenon, but thought leaders are beginning to recognize and warn that there are costs to being plugged in. It’s almost as if early adopters are signaling the backlash just as they point us to the latest and greatest trends and gadgets.
The most avid digital enthusiasts will continue to illuminate the new and use their knowledge of it as social currency. But as marketers, we’d be well advised to stay in tune with the needs of average users and those who choose to unplug occasionally.
Creating a less hurried pace of information.
What can brands do to accommodate those with connection fatigue? Better yet, how can they help people like Jeff disconnect?
The first issue is alleviating the fear of missing out. On a basic level, the response might be a content strategy that introduces weekly recaps and “in-case-you-missed-its.” But it also extends to limiting time-sensitive/act-now opportunities and using channels that emphasize visual browsing (think Pinterest) and curated content (think Storify). But could it even be advocating a “vacation setting” for people to summarize brand outreach during the specific time period they’re going to be away from the digital world?
To extend the idea further, how can brands actually help people disconnect? Can we set benevolent barriers that prevent people from accessing their accounts for certain periods of time? Perhaps deliver prompts to take a break if you send too many emails or texts? Or reminders to slow down if your calendar is too full?
There are a ton of possibilities, but supporting people like Jeff in their desire to step away is a new opportunity for developing branded utility that keeps connection fatigue at bay.
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