When you ask someone you know how they are, how often does their answer contain the word ‘busy’? I’m betting it’s more often than not. (Some) People seem to take a certain pride in just how busy their lives are – if I’m always on the go, then I’m engaged, occupied, industrious, active, in demand, needed.
It’s almost as if there is a certain status attached to being busy. But are we really happy being that hectic? Are we any busier than we used to be? Has our definition of being busy changed?
At an event last week, The Future Foundation (who do some excellent work in general) gave an interesting take on this. In spite of all the noise to the contrary, evidence shows (see below) that the proportion of people who feel that they are often under time pressure in their daily lives has not increased over the past decade.
Instead, something interesting is going on. We are packing more in but how we manage our time is changing dramatically. This manifests itself in multiple ways:- in our liking for convenience, immediacy, bite-sized information (give me what I need and give it to me quick) and no doubt also in our impatience when we don’t get it. And Multi-tasking – we are better than ever at managing multiple tasks concurrently, we are better than ever at using the tools that enable us to do this, and what’s more we don’t mind doing it.
The degree of change involved here, particularly more recently, is quite staggering. And it is, of-course, typified by a generation of teenagers who use technology, media and communications devices in a totally different way (as eloquently captured in this Guardian article) .The Future Foundation called this the rise of ‘Polychronous Behaviours’. Our hunger for new experiences and change is not diminishing. Even our definition of ‘doing nothing’ has evolved to incorporate low-level or low input activities, but activities nonetheless.
Some early findings from a separate (but related) piece of research we have done with the Future Foundation (more on that later) echoes this increasingly universal adeptness for muti-tasking but also, perversely, the continued need for people to have some down time – a period in the day when we might be watching whatever is on television without necessarily thinking about it too hard, or where we are focused on one thing to the exclusion of others, like reading a magazine or listening to music.
Individual experiences are fragmented across day part, where we have them, and who we have them with. But it is our capacity and inclination to combine, manage and merge these experiences, and our usage of new technologies to help us do this, that is changing. The people at the extreme of this phenomenon have the least leisure time yet actually do the widest variety of activities with the highest level of frequency. These ‘voracious consumers’ spend more time at work, yet do more sport and socialising. They watch less TV, spend more time communicating and are heavy internet users. They consume media in a different way. And they are increasing in number.
The implications of this for content producers and advertisers is fundamental. There are already a plethora of studies which show how media multi-tasking, or concurrent media usage, has increased dramatically. There are other studies that show how such concurrent media exposure significantly effects the level of engagement, and that some media are more likely to be multi-tasked than others. There are even studies which suggest that multi-tasking itself is a myth – that all that is really going on is that our brains are operating a sophisticated ‘queuing’ system which switches attention rapidly (but not concurrently) between task priorities. Yet most media planning still takes scant account of concurrent media usage.
So this defines a new set of reference points for the communications industry. One that includes the need to meet your customer wherever they are…one that endeavours to create a seamless flow of complementary messages that use the strengths of different platforms to involve consumers in the construction of narratives…one that makes concurrent media exposure work for you, not against you.