By Taylor Smith
I have read many books and articles discussing the digital age and how smartphones and laptops have taken over our lives and diminished our ability to communicate face to face. I have read fewer books and articles that provide useful insight on how to not fall victim to our technologies and how to be a productive and skilled communicator in this era. Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, thoughtfully crafted by William Powers, is the answer to our connected conundrum. Powers provides insight on how human beings have adapted to new technologies since writing and reading were invented in ancient Rome, and how to be a productive employee while still enjoying and utilizing our Internet connectedness.
During my time as an intern at RLF, I’ve noticed the challenges that face public relations professionals in the digital age. When is it appropriate to email a client versus call a client? What is the best way to pitch a reporter – email, social media or phone? How should I effectively communicate with my account team? While the answer isn’t always black and white, Hamlet’s Blackberry shares insight on how to effectively use new technologies to help us live a good life in the digital age.
Here are the top three digital life lessons I learned from Powers:
Email is necessary for just about every PR function—pitching reporters, working with clients, communicating internally, etc. It is impossible to ignore our forever overflowing email inboxes, but sometimes it is necessary to take a break and step away from the emails and the computer all together. As an intern at RLF, I was surprised by the amount of emails I had waiting for me every morning and it took the first 15-20 minutes of my day to sort through them. There is something to be said about using pen and paper to take notes and draft ideas, as well as picking up the telephone to have a conversation with someone rather than sending them an email or a text. If you are using email for internal communication, try instead to get up and talk to your coworkers face to face. This type of communication provides a break from the computer screen, ensures you won’t get distracted on an unrelated website, and can ultimately be much more efficient and productive.
Laptops, smartphones and tablets are just a few of a long list of technologies that have been introduced to society over the course of human history. First there was writing and reading, then printing, followed by a whole slew of inventions that were created to make our lives easier. At some point, most of these technologies were met with resistance because they were new and changed the way things were historically done. The point that Powers makes in his book is that our society eventually adopted writing and reading, and our lives would be missing substance without these technologies. It is only a matter of time before our society adapts to more recently introduced technologies, and the excessive Internet connectivity will become regularly and effortlessly integrated into our daily lives.
Personally, I use my smartphone and laptop on a daily basis to conduct school work and balance a social life, and I could not do these things without them; using these technologies are a normal part of my day from the time I get up to when I go to bed at night. In the same way, it’s important for PR and marketing professionals to adapt to and adopt new technology as part of our overall strategic plan. Whether it’s social media, digital marketing or website development, the industry is always changing and communications organizations have to keep up.
Know when to unplug and when to plug in
Knowing when to plug into the connected “crowd” and when to unplug and be alone with your thoughts is essential in obtaining and maintaining the aforementioned balance. Powers suggests taking a break from being connected because we are often plagued with information overload, and it is beneficial to unplug in order to process it all. The more time we take to process information, the more useful it will be to us in the future and will enhance our productivity. Sometimes we need to step away from the screen to foster creativity and develop new ideas and strategic plans that will help set our clients apart from the competition.
I find it helpful to take a break and walk away from my computer periodically during the day, and when I am at home I make an effort to put my smartphone down and focus on conversations with friends in person or meditating on my day. Doing these things clears my mind and allows me to be more productive and effective when it comes time to be connected at RLF or for school.
As PR professionals, we need to learn both how to connect and how to disconnect when necessary. While we need to be on top of news as it happens and constantly available for clients, we also need to be able to step away from the screen and communicate in person. Fostering relationships has been achieved without computers for centuries — we can still do it today. Growing up as a millennial, I am prone to sending an email or text instead of making a phone call or having an in-person meeting, but that isn’t going to get us as far in an industry centered around building relationships. Powers’ advice to the digital generation is this: “Sometimes the coolest device is no device at all.” Put the screen down for a moment and enjoy the ride.