One of my favourite episodes of Seinfeld is called The Strike where the 12 year long industrial action at Kramer’s employer, H&H Bagels, ends. My favourite moment though is Elaine getting upset at having given a fake phone number to a guy she dubs ‘Denim Vest’ written hurriedly on her submarine sandwich loyalty card. She finds to her dismay that she was at the point of getting her ‘free’ subway and goes on a futile hunt to get the card back, even though she actually doesn’t like the food there. It’s also a classic for introducing the audience to Festivus and the concept of a ‘two-face’.
The notion of hanging on way beyond when you should let go is something I have been contemplating lately. I have also been reflecting on the lack of patience at holding on in there. These two things might seem, at first glance, contradictory but I think they co-exist quite happily in our lives at the moment – which is not really a good thing. Digital media is making this more prevalent.
While driving home the other night I put I played iphone music through my car’s Bluetooth. Bear in mind this is a selection of my favourite artists. I flicked endlessly from one song to the other on shuffle seldom hearing a song the whole way through. Having the ability to shuffle and flick forward at the touch of a button on my steering wheel is both a bonus and a drawback. Now, if the song doesn’t ‘capture’ me in the first few bars it gets flicked until some tune appeals. If that song starts to meander, especially through a bridge (the song not the engineering variety) then it too gets the flick. It doesn’t matter if it’s Springsteen, Dylan, Morrison, the Beatles or the Doors you’re only getting a nano-second to get me hooked. Convenience and massive catalogue are now two weapons in my listening arsenal.
I’ve become very fickle with little patience to stick with a song to see how it builds. In the analogue days of LPs, to move a song on meant getting up and going to the turntable. This built up a certain patience with the song and made the musical listening experience much more rewarding and certainly much less frenetic. The other ‘beauty’ of the analogue experience was that you were ‘stuck’ with the artist for the entire side if you decided the trip to the turntable from the bean bag was just too big an effort. In the listening, the concept of an album being curated became something to reflect on. Why was ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ placed next after ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band for instance? Now the curating of song list is done by a pretty clumpy Apple shuffle program. The more tools I have to flit around, the more I am prone to use them.
That very same evening I sat down to watch Netflix and put on House of Cards as we have been busily watching episodes on an every other night basis. I found myself watching it, not for enjoyment – as a piece of TV it lost its way after season one and went inexorably downhill from there – but to get to the end. It was my viewing equivalent of Elaine’s submarine sandwich loyalty card. I found myself sticking to something I should have bailed from long before.
It would appear we suffer simultaneously from attention and curatorial deficit disorder. Once something has got its hook in you it’s hard to unshackle yourself. I think it has to do with the fact that to be hooked in the beginning takes some effort, so if the TV show for example was capable of doing that, it is worth the extra loyalty. Many a program has tripped me up in this respect. Orange is the New Black is one, but surely the most striking example would be Season 3 of The Fall. That’s hours of my life I will never get back.
While that may seem frivolous, it is time I could be devoting elsewhere. It also, on reflection, makes you think about what you haven’t seen because your attention deficit meant you didn’t get hooked to start with. This is where my daughter, counter-intuitively a Gen Y, comes in handy. She insists I sit through a show again even when on occasions I have bailed before the end of the first episode. Breaking Bad, Making a Murderer and The Keepers being striking examples of my initial lack of appreciation. These have been moments of TV gold – definitely worth the perseverance.
This cognitive re-orientation, partly driven by the digital nature of services nowadays, compared to the softer warmer analogue of days gone by, is something we need to recognise and take seriously. It is having a profound impact on our lives and we need to at least acknowledge this. In the world of work we are told that we all need a brand and a narrative that is immediately going to ‘grab’ the audience. Web pages now need to have something that compels the eyeball to click-through. At work we get over 1,0000 unique visits to our website each month. Our click-through rate sits at a pretty dismal 10%. That is, on reaching our webpage, only 100 of the 1,000 visitors choose to click and move forward to find out more about us. This lack of stickability manifests itself in all sorts of situations in the workplace. For example when I’m interviewing someone, my digitally manic brain is searching for the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ bias in my judgment of them as a potential employee, now in seconds rather than minutes.
When someone starts a job, our tolerance of their learning curve in our company may be quite limited. The speed of climbing a learning curve is only partly associated with how good they are. The other component is the time it takes for the full range of complex experiences with which you can judge a worker’s competency, to arise naturally in the workplace. Maybe we should consider what impacts our recently digitised minds are having on the hiring, inducting and firing process? Perhaps we are judging our new employees too early and harshly and keeping hold of our long-serving staff for familiarity reasons for too long? We need to slow down and have moments that can quieten the manic brain. Equipping ourselves with the means to combat the negative impacts of our VUCA world is now an essential tool in a worker’s toolbox.
Just something to ponder as we get impacted by Netflix, MP3 music and convenience that strips fidelity from our lives. Ever wondered why people’s homes in science fiction movies seem austere and sterile? Digital is a much colder experience. Oh there is one exception – that’s in The Handmaid’s Tale on SBS On Demand. That is one TV show I am sticking with…for the time being at least!