The inexplicable lure of ‘another place’
In the hierarchy of social interaction, physical proximity appears to be sliding down the list. Maybe it’s a generational thing; but why would a phone call or a social media message take precedence over someone standing next to you? Especially when that person is already in front of you and conversing with you?
But it’s an increasingly common phenomenon; people interrupting a ‘traditional’ conversation to take a call or respond to a message. There should be a word for it – ‘Twitterrrupting’, perhaps? I witnessed an example of this practice this weekend at Lakme Fashion Week; rest assured, not involving one of our clients. A journalist was valiantly trying to conduct an interview with an esteemed designer, while he and his entire entourage appeared to be engaged in some sort of virtual online ‘chatathon’ via their mobiles. Quite apart from the simple issue of common courtesy – it’s generally accepted as good manners to pay attention to an interlocutor if they are sitting in front of you. I also question the basic effectiveness of such an exchange. Why go to all the effort of setting up an interview if – in reality – you’d rather be somewhere else?
And this appears to be the delirium behind excessive use of social media – particularly, mobiles. People long to be somewhere else; if they are having dinner with family, they’d rather be out with their friends; if they are in a meeting at work, they’d rather be catching up on Game of Thrones. Fair enough, but I’m beginning to think that the simple fact that content or conversation is Web-based, actually makes it more alluring. Eighty-seven per cent of US consumers use more than one device at a time, while at the younger end, 74 per cent of 14- to 17-year-olds use a combination of TV/smartphones during viewing1. In short, if someone were in front of the TV watching Game of Thrones, the younger they are, the more likely they’d be conducting a social media conversation at the same time.
This ‘allure of another place’ can have negative consequences, particularly in a customer service context. I’ve lost count of the number of times my check-in in a hotel has been interrupted by a telephone call to reception. Invariably the receptionist puts my check-in on hold to answer it, which makes absolutely no sense. Why should someone’s phone call be considered more of a priority than dealing which a client who has actually bothered to show up? But that’s the logic of ‘another place’ — whatever is virtual must, by definition, be more important/urgent/interesting than what is physical.
In parliamentary terms, ‘another place’ or ‘the other place’ is a euphemism used in many two house systems to refer to one chamber or another. A member the British House of Commons, for instance, will not usually refer to the House of Lords directly, but indirectly using one of these euphemisms. The reasons for the tradition are unclear, but it has been suggested that it dates back to a period of ill-feeling between the two houses of the UK Parliament. Each time I hear the phrase, I’m reminded of social media’s ‘another place’; and the captivating allure of the place where we are not, or the person we are not actually with. As you can see2 from the photo, British parliamentarians are not immune from the allure of the modern ‘other place’; many of them would probably be somewhere else.
Equally, every time a hotel receptionist interrupts our conversation to answer the phone, I feel like a victim of ‘another place’; one step lower on the hierarchy of social interaction, just below a Tweet, but probably above a fax…probably!
Let’s face it; what’s on the Web is often more interesting and compelling than what’s actually in front of us. So how should we control the allure of ‘another place’? My strategy is this – people remain at the top of the communications food chain; whether they are clients, colleagues, shop assistants, receptionists, or petrol pump attendants. I never interrupt a conversation with a person to take a call or respond to a message. If, in the rare instance, I’m expecting a call at a particular time, I alert the interlocutor in advance, and then step outside to take it; enabling them to continue with their lives.
As digital social media stimuli become more intense and invasive, dealing with ‘another place’ in a manner which is both courteous and efficient will become a priority. Perhaps, it should be something we teach in schools or, even, in Parliaments?