I travel. A lot. And it gives me plenty of time to do something I really enjoy—observe people and think about how they behave and what motivates them. After all, I’m a marketer. I help people figure out how to sell more stuff to more people. Part of doing that effectively is understanding people and consumer behavior.
And you know what I see? Earbuds. Earbuds and headphones—they’re everywhere! You sit on an airplane, it’s inevitable your seatmate is wearing headphones. In an airport, same thing. On the train, on the bus, in an elevator, walking along a busy street—what do you see? Earbuds galore and devices delivering what must clearly be a magic elixir.
I hate them!
Earbuds and the devices they’re connected to—and our apparent collective willingness to enter the realm of Don’t Talk to Me I’ve Got My Earbuds In—constitute a huge barrier to interpersonal communication.
Earbuds prompt a disconnect: missed opportunities, missed conversations, missed interactions.
I love people, and I love communicating, and it shows. But even if you don’t love people as I do, you must see the opportunities you’re missing when you’re perpetually plugged in to something other than what’s going on around you—and the people you’re going through life with.
For instance, if you’re a recent college grad or a young professional hoping to land your first job or work your way up the career ladder, do you get on an airplane, plop your headphones on, and plug into your omnipresent device? Did it never occur to you that the person next to you might be your next boss—if only you’d deign to give him or her the opportunity to get to know you?
What about the business opportunities lost because we are wont to plug in and tune out? I met one of my favorite people in the world at LaGuardia Airport one summer afternoon as we waited for our flights. He was in search of power, and there was an available plug near me. I did not have my earbuds in, nor did he.
We quickly struck up a conversation and learned that not only are we both immersed in the digital space, we have many of the same interests. We’ve since collaborated on projects and speaking opportunities, mentored one another, referred business, and developed a close friendship. We had an opportunity to get to know one another because we were unconnected to devices and connected to this thing called “real life.”
Seems like a no-brainer, but look around you—right now. No matter where you are, I can guarantee you that the openness to communication we enjoyed is the exception, not the norm. Just about everyone everywhere is plugged in.
I bet that tuning in instead of tuning out—and making the most of whatever opportunities come your way—will be better than whatever music you’re listening to.
I don’t ask you to agree with me, but I do ask you to think about it. If you’re searching for a job or looking for opportunities or just looking to learn and grow as a person, think about disconnecting from your devices, lifting your head, and getting involved in what’s going on around you—at least for a little while.
If you’re in marketing, advertising, PR, social media, or any kind of corporate communications and not unplugging, well, you’re a dummy—and possibly either arrogant or ignorant. Because when you’re in those fields, it’s tough to deliver value to your clients if you’re not paying attention to people.
What do you think?
Shelly Kramer is the CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing.