As a communications professional, nearly 80 % of my day is spent communicating in one form or another. I use phones, email, text messaging, whatsapp, Facebook, twitter, instagram, linkedin, Skype and occasionally, I even go really wild and speak to people in person. It may seem like the possibilities of today’s technology have helped our jobs and communication between people in general, but in reality, I often feel overwhelmed by the variety of channels and the challenges of dealing with the constant flow of information and images of other people’s lives, jobs, questions, offers and experiences. I am certainly not the only one who senses a feeling of restlessness and nervousness facing the constant blinking and tinkling of my various devices, and nonetheless I am unable to overcome this addiction to being „hyperconnected“ with the world. I’ve caught myself checking my inboxes and news feeds hundreds of times during the day although I am neither expecting to see anything new, nor am I particularly interested in what I see. It is similar to those times as a kid, when you opened the fridge again and again even though you weren’t hungry and knew already what was in it. Mere boredom? Or is there more to it?
Needless to say, all the checking and waiting is down to the speed of today’s instant communication and what we have learned to be the standard. We expect immediate feedback when we sent a message or publish a post, aggravated by the fact that most apps enable you to see that the other is online, active, posting and has read your message – or worse yet – is all of those things, and still hasn’t. The level of anxiety we are putting ourselves through and the level of expectations we have towards responsiveness is a source of deep frustration, subconscious, or quite conscious. Against this backdrop, I was quite intrigued when a friend told me about a new app he launched, which is everything BUT instant communication. Pauz is an app that you can use to send messages to people without knowing the exact date and time of their delivery, and without knowing when they read it or respond to it. Pretty similar to the good old mail service. The thought behind it is to shift expectations towards communication and return to the days when you didn’t define your relationships by the speed of replies you got from your loved ones, but by their quality.
But is it possible to reinstall the faith we used to have in human relationships?
I remember a time when we didn’t have mobile phones (Gosh, I sound old!) and used to hear from each other every two days, sometimes three. And that was perfectly OK. When we talked, we would tell each other what we had been up to during those days. We knew roughly what the other was doing, sometimes we didn’t, but it didn’t matter, because we used other indications to determine the quality and depth of the relationship, not the fact that we were constantly „in touch“. Nowadays, the thought of not hearing your partner for two days in a row would mean the end to many a relationship. A word and a blow, I downloaded Pauz and waited. Because this is what it’s about, I guess. Luckily, said friend empathized and sent me a message… which arrived three days later. I must admit, I had forgotten about the app in the meantime, but when I opened it and read each line unfolding one by one, I felt something that I haven’t felt in a long time when opening a message: excitement. And something else: frustration. I felt frustrated because I was out of control. I couldn’t respond immediately and establish the level of perceived intimacy that you feel when you are in instant communication mode. In reality though, intimacy is built over time, not just frequency. I started to type but I couldn’t put my immediate thoughts into the text field because my reply wouldn’t be the start of a conversation, it would be a… letter. To someone I barely know. I realised that I had to do something else, which I haven’t done in a long time since using instant communication: reflect. This app gives you time to think about what you want to say, how you want to say it and when you send it. And it forces you to be patient and stay tuned although things move really, really slowly.
In a world where every instant is shareable, do we have time to wait for an answer?
But maybe more importantly, it made me think about our communication habits and the anxiety we feel when we are no longer independent of the feedback and immediate response of others. We confuse the promptness of someone’s reply with the level of interest he has in us, and ultimately, our value. A delayed response means that we are not important enough to be dealt with straight away. Pauz may not become a big commercial hit, but it reveals our yearning to be the centre of attention of people whose every move we witness and whose frequency of activities and posts is a landmark of their desirability. It doesn’t matter what they answer, as long as they put everything else at rest and do it immediately. What we tend to forget is that the fact that someone takes time and consideration when communicating with us, could mean that we actually ARE important to them. It’s time to redefine the meaning of a „sluggish response“ as one that’s been given in a matter of split seconds. And it’s time to cherish anticipation and restriction in interpersonal relationships, for they are increasing our sensitivity towards meaningful gestures and help to feel a much deeper form of being „in touch“. I am convinced deceleration is going to be the trend of the next communication era. Just like slow-food, there will be slow-working, slow-messaging and slow-dating, too. After all, aren’t we all looking for someone we can pause with? I for one, am going to take my time responding. Not as part of a game of emotional manipulation, but because I need to think a little about what I really have to say about me, to someone I barely know.