When I text my brother, I can usually expect a response in 2-3 days. I’ve never asked him why he’s so bad at responding. I figure it’s none of my business. When I receive a text or miss a call from my friend who lives in San Francisco—I live in Kentucky—I know that I only have about a minute to respond. If I take any longer, he will have already moved on with his life and, for the sake of wasted time, I should probably abandon any attempt to continue the conversation.
According to Facebook, they averaged 1.18 billion active daily users in September 2016. Twitter’s website (at the time of writing this article—Nov. 2016) says they have 313 million active users. In 2014, 8.5 Billion texts were sent each day in the U.S. alone! By 2018, it’s expected that people will receive 97 business related emails per day.
Then there’s old fashioned phone calls, diminishing but still relevant—the NSA said that in 2013 there were about 3 billion phone calls being made in the U.S. each day.
We are living through a digital revolution—a time of ever increasing hyperconnectivity—but somehow it doesn’t always feel that way.
Maybe it’s because only 22% of emails are ever opened—or the fact that the number of phone calls that go unanswered is increasing. When those calls go unanswered, 72% of callers don’t leave voicemails, which is probably smart because 80% of people say they don’t listen to them.
Contacting People We Know
Our social habits, when it comes to communication, are also in a revolution.
While I expect one friend to respond to all of my social media messages, texts, or phone calls, I don’t have the same expectations for everyone. That may because there is no universally accepted primary form of communication anymore. My grandma doesn’t text, my brother doesn’t write letters, my wife isn’t on Twitter, and one of my friends isn’t on Facebook. I remember—when my wife and I were planning our wedding—trying to collect people’s addresses to send out invitations. Besides letter writing, I had to use each of the aforementioned forms of communication to complete our list—plus phone calls—and, for some people, it took multiple messages before they responded.
I don’t know how often my uncle checks his social media accounts, I don’t know my old coworker’s email address, and I don’t know the new cell phone numbers for all of my old high school friends. This meant that the best process was trial and error. If nobody responded on Facebook, or an old email address bounced, then I had to track down friends and family through other people.
Who has a home phone anymore? My family hasn’t had one for over 8 years. Furthermore,I have friends that I haven’t called in years but we text on a regular basis. Communication has changed.
When I call my bank, I know the exact moment that I can interrupt the robo-operator by pressing “0”. While that gets me a little closer to my goal of talking to a live person, I still have to make a couple more numerical selections before I finally get placed on hold—because they are always “experiencing higher than normal call volume”—and wait for an actual person to help me.
I called the manufacturer of my microwave because it needed repair—it was almost 20 minutes before I got to talk to someone.
The pre-recorded message suggested several times that I go to the website to make a service appointment but I didn’t have the warranty information needed to make an appointment via the website. I needed to talk to a person—a small request, I thought, since I was reaching out to a multi-billion dollar company. But, this is the way things are now. We live in the world of online chat support, FAQ pages, and automated emails.
There are even websites like GetHuman.com that try to address this issue. Get Human’s tagline is “Get painless customer service.” On their site, you can enter the name of a company with whom you have an issue and Get Human will give you the best phone numbers and web pages to get your problem solved—or you can pay them to get it solved for you since dealing with company’s customer service processes is often difficult and time-consuming.
Many companies, especially in the tech industry, are abandoning phone numbers altogether. Try entering Facebook or Twitter into Get Human’s system and, while it will provide you with a number, the number is only a recording that directs you back to a website. This is of course, understandable for a company like Facebook with over a billion customers.
Contacting Prominent People
How many emails do you think Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, gets each day? I’ve emailed him. I didn’t expect a response and I didn’t get one. But I was able to find his email address—or at least one of his email addresses—and while I know there’s a 99 percent chance that it’s not actually Sir Richard Branson managing the account but an administrative assistant, since it exists, I figured it must serve some purpose. So why not try.
But if I found the address by engaging only a moderate amount of search-engine sleuthing skills, then so can millions of other people, and that seems to be the problem with hyperconnectivity—when we are all connected, the people whose attention is most in demand are overwhelmed with requests. It’s like a thousand swarms of bees all vying for the nectar of a single flower.
For the uber-famous, it’s an impossible endeavor to try to respond to every request for attention. There simply isn’t enough nectar for all the bees.
I remember writing a letter to Michael Jordan as a child. Months later, I actually got a signed letter back. I have no idea if it was actually signed by MJ, but I got a response. There may be celebrities left with impressively responsive fan clubs but I’d venture to guess that a vast majority of fans aren’t writing letters these days.* They’re tagging celebrities in tweets and taking a chance with an unsolicited email.**
*It’s important to point out there is likely a big difference between response rates with fans and response rates to business inquiries directed at celebrities. **While probably impossible for Richard Branson, I can think of a couple celebrities that claim to personally respond to every email.
Contacting prominent people becomes then one of two things—the cliched ideas of rising above the noise or “it’s who you know”.
Look at Sir Richard Branson again—right now he has 8.7 million Twitter followers. That’s a lot of noise to overcome, but at least one man did it. He got creative. While most people were sending emails and tweets followed by prayer or strategic follow up messages, Joe Tannorella built a website. DearSirRichard.com was a personal message to Branson, disguised as a website. On the site Joe asked Branson if he would be willing to record a short clip to be played during his best man speech at his brother’s wedding—Branson was his brother’s hero. In the end, with the help of a few Twitter advertisements, it worked—Branson sent a personal message to Joe and his brother and Virgin Mobile reached out too, asking Joe to email them directly.
It seems one cliche begets the other—you need other people to help you rise above the noise. That’s why Joe put his personal contact information on the website and asked anybody with a connection to Branson to please forward his info and his request.
Compare the following two web pages:
One shows a live counter tracking the number of people in the world. The other shows a live counter tracking the number of people that have access to the internet. You’ll see that the latter is rising much faster. One day those numbers could meet and there are lots of people working to make that happen. Google company X has Project Loon, Facebook has Internet.org—both projects aiming to bring Internet access to the entire world. Independent projects like Connect the World are trying to bring people and companies together with the same objective.
We can only speculate on what technological advances await us down the road and with the sizable growth potential of Internet access, it would seem we are still in an early phase of person-to-person hyperconnectivity. This means that, as more people come online, the noise will only get louder. There are already 3.5 billion people with internet access worldwide and every day another aspect of our daily lives becomes digitally connected—simplified in an app. or swallowed by a new industry—each change creating new avenues for communication.
As one person said—their name appropriately lost in the noise–, “It has never been so easy and so hard to reach someone.” This is the paradox of hyperconnectivity.
Featured photo credit: Pavan Trikutum via unsplash.com