There was something in the air this holiday season, and beyond. If I heard it once, I heard it a half a dozen times, "I'm waiting for a reply;" "Everything is in limbo;" "Nothing is moving forward;" "No one is getting back to me;" "I've tried everything;" "I can't follow up anymore without feeling like a stalker." This was all coming from people who were complaining about not being able to get their jobs done due to a lack of responsiveness from others. Finally, after it was clear that a pattern had emerged, and I was as puzzled as I was curious, I asked someone why, in his opinion, he thought so many people were stuck and creating the work equivalent of a pile up on the freeway.
He offered a scenario, which now in retrospect, seems rather obvious. People are drowning in information, much of which is irrelevant. Faces are buried in phones or phones are glued to ears. Information is downloading into our personal and professional space 24/7. People are at their desks waiting for the next Facebook or Twitter update and interrupting their flow to check in on the latest useless piece of information. They're getting alerts, headlines, stock quotes, junk emails and IM's, plus more messages from all the social networking, news, dating, deals and offers sites. This then is loaded on top of the messages and phone calls that were keeping us busy in the first place pre-Web 2.0. All told, it eats away at our time and energy at an alarming rate, leaving little attention, if any at all to spare on the basics like answering questions and responding to people. Coupled with the added demands and stress of the holidays, it seems to have stretched many beyond their capacity.
I have to say, I felt it too. I went into the last two weeks of December feeling like I needed to create some space inside my head. My goal for the break was to "unplug." As it turns out, I wasn't alone. As I'm back now in full swing and asking people how their holidays were, I get, "Quiet," "Eh," or "Okay." There is a sense of apathy, fatigue and exhaustion. Folks needed some distance and they took it, only to return to the same onslaught of interference. Then I read this article in The New York Times by Pico Iyer that put into words what I think many of us have been feeling. And, it is when I realized that that space we need and seem to be looking for is far more profound than I had originally thought.