Have we become too casual?
If the obvious zeitgeist of our times is the desperate need for connection and endless sharing, albeit on Facebook and Twitter, then the genteel zeitgeist of our times is casualisation – specifically the uber-casualisation of our lives. Whether we apply this supposition to personal or business affairs the examples are in profusion.
Casualisation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand “the times” call for less stately and ornate communication, and behaviour, but on the other hand it has watered down not only the way we communicate but also what we communicate.
Casualisation has particularly skulked into the last decade partially via a digital mutiny but also due to a physical and emotional demand for, as the zeitgeist says, connecting. Houses are designed with fewer interior walls allowing for collaborative informal entertaining. The kitchen cum living area is asserting its title as “the bosom of the home”. Highly specific informal micro-communities, like the Jewish Princesses Against Pepsi Addiction In Long Island (the JPAPALI), are meeting with great fortitude (with an unofficial playground online of course). The tie has been replaced by the flip-flop as we arouse our connection to leisure. Meetings, across industries, rarely require more than a coffee shop – forget the golf course. Our cherished in-house newsreader and CNN reporter are chattier than ever. And Ellen and The Talk take the reigns of supposed serious yatter. Boundless hours of free calls on Skype and Viber have replaced the quick holiday phone call to the distance family. The cloakroom has disappeared over night as if its formality and ability to unconsciously create a sense of place is no longer necessary; or maybe coats are just not very popular this season.
But for now forget the template and consider the times related to communication: the digital era has rammed towards 3.0, citizens are vehemently taking back power across the world by occupying space (formerly-known-as-public-space) and wars based on misconstruction still dig deeper into the sand. And so it is flooding the very essence of pan-communication. We revel in a space of partially engaged relations whereby the necessary weightiness of communication is diluted leaving us a rather apterous specie. Suggesting that not everyone has drunk the Redbull for its proverbial wings.
One word answers in an email, silly mindless Facebook sharing, hands off tech encouraging a WIFI approach to dialogue and complete disregard to etiquette of “do and don’t” when it comes to social media. These are just some of the communication muddle we face if we’re remotely connected to the big bad web. Perhaps this muddle is more of a dilemma as we are confronted by a choice between undesirable alternatives. We can either ignore the revolution of a new age of communication or seemingly join this revolt and lose some clout in way of communicating.
Saying all this a dilemma can be an encumbrance and its tonnage can surely be felt. Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker of October 2011 argues that light connections (and he means on various social media platforms) are too casual and not nearly substantial enough to form true communication. But perhaps a new course can be encouraged after all – a decent median in the middle age of digital. Abandoning the tendency to interact as a teenager and the liability of not connecting at all like an oldster. So the answers lie in finding this middle way of social media, of casualisation, of digital emergence and in communication to promote a “heavy” connection instead.
For communication professionals the task at hand is irrefutable. As the master of communication, PR can regard the need to casual down and the inverted need to promote meaningfulness. Public relations can instil an ordinance. These might include: returning to proper diction in an email (not just a quick spell-check); picking up the phone instead of endless to and fro BBM messages; creating content that’s thought-driven, well written, researched, relevant and not copied and pasted from a website; building closer relationships by having a methodical “listening” session; promoting less vacuous culture (pseudo Kardasian-like celebrity et cetera); redefining meritocracy with authentic influencers; originating dialogue from the bottom up (not the top down).
All in all it’s simple – communicate better. Just do it. Just communicate better, not more formalised, just better. Incorporate the digital world as a helpful tool for convenience but apply the same principles of overall effective communication to all channels. Forget casual, and formal. Find a new voice that drives communication, and by implication content, somewhere in between that represents excellence.