The future of our collective IQs: it's all down to collaboration

Carat Sydney communications planning director, Kate Newell
By Carat Sydney communications planning director, Kate Newell | 24 November 2015
Kate Newell.

Earlier this year I read this article from The Guardian titled “Why the modern world is bad for the brain”. As I read about how “having the opportunity to multitask is detrimental to cognitive performance” I realised that I was embroiled in a live demonstration of the very problem it was discussing. So I started a list, as I read, of exactly what I ended up doing while trying to read this article, to see just how incapable I had become at focusing on one single (and not very time consuming) task. The result? I’ll let the list speak for itself.

Hello everything, goodbye IQ?

According to Daniel Levitan, the neuroscientist referenced in the article, “When trying to concentrate on a task, an unread email in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.” This does not bode well for us from a personal or professional perspective. For many of us the very first thing we do every day is check our many inboxes through half open eyes. Are we really dropping brain cells (and thereby our ability to perform) with every message that urgently slams into our lives? And in our dumbed down state how on earth are we meant to create meaningful impact on equally distracted consumers?

As all the talk of the world of convergence, the internet of things and the 24/7 consumer becomes a mainstream reality we are going to be faced with more and more means of sending and receiving messages, or conversely put, more and more points of distraction. While this advancement in technology and lifestyle brings amazing opportunity, it also presents us as marketing professionals with a rather large challenge.

We’re deep in the throes of the “attention economy”, where adding meaningful value is seen to be the only way to cut through the ever-increasing clutter. According to research by News Ltd our brains are exposed to two million pieces of information every single second, yet we can only process 134. In fact our attention span has dropped from 12 to nine seconds since 2012 (Microsoft 2015), which puts us just one second above the goldfish. So the odds of grabbing and maintaining our customers’ attention are against us from the start.

The impact of change, the changing impact

Significant changes in human behaviour don’t come about very often, but when they do it has often been driven by the development of a technology that has become a medium of communication. TV, the Internet, smart phones – all of these have dramatically influenced how we think, behave and interact as societies. As the internet of things scales we will undoubtedly see shifts in behaviour and as marketers we have a role to play in guiding how people will interact with these “things”, what they expect to gain, how much they will share, how they will transact.

The “attention economy” certainly isn’t going anywhere, it is simply morphing very quickly into the “expectation economy” and the evolution of the arena in which we all work will influence, much more than we might consider, exactly how consumer behaviour will evolve. It’s up to us to make sure we meet their expectations and impact shifting behaviour in a meaningful and responsible way.

Power to the people

If we are to succeed in doing this it’s going to require a collective effort. We need to create true partnership with the technology creators who will be advancing the internet of things. This means our world needs to expand from the expected sales and integration teams, comms, creative and PR alliances and become equally focused on areas like UX and product development.

With communications becoming an embedded part of multi-function goods your fridge will preserve your food but it will also provide you with information. Most importantly, we need to remember the impact of our efforts on the people it’s aimed at and not just the bottom line. Because if we keep the collective IQ up through valuable, meaningful and compelling communication we’re probably all going to be better off.

By Carat Sydney communications planning director, Kate Newell

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