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The Expansion of Experience – The Home/Work Blur Today

Just got back from the Business Marketing Association’s annual conference in Chicago, where I spoke on a general session panel entitled “The @Work State of Mind.” Rick Segal, president of the ad firm GyroHSR, moderated.

The boundaries between home and work are gone – that’s not news. But we’re still dealing with the fallout. At BMA, I noted that the division between these spheres was a short-lived Industrial Age experiment. Remember, the weekend and the vacation are recent (and fading) inventions.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re returning to an agrarian past. In the pre-Industrial past, the work-life blend stemmed from a restriction of human experience. People were rooted, and hewn to biological or cultural time flows. Now, work-life integration is due to an expansion of experience – a collapse of distance and a rush past the shackles of the clock. We’re free-floaters, for both better and worse.

We’re in constant “on” mode, a tempo that is inspiring and exhausting. Fellow panelist Eduardo Conrado, chief marketing officer at Motorola Solutions, told of being home, yet “snacking” on information all the time. A new study reports that 30 percent of mobile workers wake up at night to check email. (A blurring of sleep and wake?)

We’re having trouble finding the time and resources to pay attention deeply. Dalton Conley of NYU pointed out research showing that multitasking affects memory. When we juggle while trying to learn, we can’t recall the newly learned information deeply, and so cannot transfer this shallow learning to new situations. The opportunity is squandered.

Three-quarters of workers say they don’t have enough time with their children, even while studies show that parental time spent on childcare is at record highs. Why the disconnect? Multitasking. People feel time-starved, because they’re with their children, yet mentally away. As panelist Johnna Torsone, HR director at Pitney Bowes, pointed out, we have wonderful new ways to connect; she skypes with her West Coast grandson. But we can’t nurture deep relations without face time, and without at least sometimes preserving what I call the integrity of the moment. It’s essential to our humanity.

The implications for marketers? First, nurture ways to step in and out of the flow. Being immersed, hurried, interrupted and reactive is antithetical to deep thought and relations – and informed decision-making. Second, highlight stories. Narrative is more important than ever as essential form of meaning-making in a complex society. It’s a terra firma in this free-floating world. As Jerome Bruner notes, stories are mankind’s way of  wresting meaning from surprise – from the times when something went awry.

Gyro kindly bought 100 copies of Distracted as a giveaway. As I signed them, people expressed their concern again and again for their children’s future. A world without deep focus is untenable, and we know it.

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