It’s good to talk

Recently I took out a new mobile phone contract and was amazed by how much ‘all you can eat’ call packages had fallen in price. Is this supply driven, I wondered, with intense market competition driving ever cheaper data transmission?  Or is it really about changes in consumer behaviour, because people now use their phones for almost everything except to phone people?

My first inkling of this trend was when specifying suitable mobile phone packages for my children. The age that a child now needs his/her own mobile phone is the age when you stop collecting them from school. (Although the idea is that they can call you, in practice it is so that you can call them – if they remember to charge it and switch it on.) Whenever I checked how my kids were coping with their ‘talk’ allowance, I’d find they’d barely used any minutes at all. But they were not incommunicado. In two consecutive months (before I spotted the huge bill) one of my offspring exceeded an 800 text per month allowance by a staggering 600 texts.  Excluding school hours, that’s nearly 5 texts per waking hour. Actually that now seems on the low side.

In my experience, members of the emerging ‘why do I have to?’ generation organise their lives via text or social media sites. For a stressed out parent, this method has one major flaw. Simply, you have to wait for the other party to ‘check in’ to the chosen medium  (text, BB messaging, twitter, facebook, whatever…) before you can expect a response. It could be instant, in a few hours, tomorrow, next week, whenever, never. If the response is unintelligible, which is the norm, you must then repeat the cycle. Ad infinitum.

In the digital age, interrupting people’s lives with an unplanned phone call has become an unacceptable breach of etiquette. It is common practice now in office workplaces to arrange a time to speak on the phone, using a combination of e-mail and calendar appointments. Increasingly, this leads to an invite to a conference call, because between now and the scheduled time, either of you may want to invite others to take part as well. Sometimes the original parties to the conversation elect not to join the call themselves.

If you work in an office, take a moment to listen. Do you hear talking or typing?  And if your colleagues now use ipads, do you hear anything at all, apart from the ambient drone of air conditioning?

Where will this lead us, I wonder, as we look forward to today’s youngsters entering the workforce.  In the past, the demands of the workplace have conditioned inarticulate youth to produce, sort of, like, meaningful utterances, innit. But as the need for spoken conversation declines in so many areas of human life, I wonder if in a few generations time, the ability to speak will become a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential skill.

It is over two decades since BT ran its iconic advertising campaign, “it’s good to talk”.  I think it is due a reprisal. Meanwhile, as an employee engagement professional, my new mantra has become, ‘what can we do today to get people talking?’

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