On being in touch

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just released a report based on a survey, How Australians spend their time. The section I want to comment on says this (from the media release):

“Time spent on recreation and leisure activities has decreased by 1 hour 45 minutes per week since 1997 (to 29 hours 31 minutes a week). We’re spending on average an extra hour a week on activities such as watching television and using the Internet than we did in 1997 (16 hours 20 minutes a week spent on audio/visual activities). However, time spent on sport and outdoor activity has decreased by nearly an hour compared to an average week in 1997 (to an average 2 hours 13 minutes a week in 2006)”.

The survey results tend toward an increase in communication via third party channels and a reduction in time spent physically socialising with actual people. Now I admit that my preference is for face-to-face communication, both in my social space and work space, but this is not always possible. To me, my digital communication channels are secondary. But to others, more younger than me I’ll admit, digital communication channels are more, or just as, important as face-to-face communication.

But I want to link this notion of reduced sociability to knowledge management and to a  blog post on touch written by Patrick Lambe. Patrick makes the valid point that face-to-face interaction and socialising are good things – human things. He goes on to suggest that “touch” is something that we ignore, especially working in a field like knowledge management that relies so heavily on human connectivity and trust. Patrick says:

 “And we treat everything as if it’s something that happens in the head, or between heads and heads (involving soundwaves) or heads and text in various forms. Specifically, I don’t see us anywhere talking about the importance of touch“.

Touch is a sensitive issue, in a very real sense of the word. Individuals and cultures have a high range of sensitivities to touch (chase up the iconic research by Sidney Jourard thirty-odd years ago, and quoted in the book, Manwatching).

Touch is also a sensitive issue in professional spheres, where much of the knowledge management we do and encourage takes place. There are often professional sanctions with regard to touch, no matter how innocent or human that may be in the circumstances. Is touch appropriate and allowable in the context at the time?

Now it’s all very well to say that it’s a crying shame that professionally and otherwise touch has been ignored for too long. It is indeed a shame when professional restrictions and legalities intrude into the human dimension but this, my friends, is a fact of contemporary life. So let us not dwell too much in “wouldn’t it be nice land” on the specifics of “touch” in our knowledge management work, but focus more on what being human within our work contexts actually allows us to do with people and how we do it. We can be more human by simply going to the trouble of being with people and not hiding behind a desk and shooting off e-mails to the person across the room, just for starters!

I agree wholeheartedly with Patrick’s sentiments for increasing social interaction and face-to-face contact. Patrick cites a great example where Paolo Coelho sends out ten  party invitation to virtual friends and contacts to meet up face-to-face. Such an approach to get “in touch” in such a way like that is a definite improvement for enhancing “being in touch” with our people network.

So, I am definitely in favour of “being in touch” and “getting in touch” through socialising and face-to-face contact, but I am hesitant in escalating touch beyond that given the cultural, social, and professional barriers (good or otherwise) that exist in our professional world.

And as an addendum, I had a quick look to see if I had any notes on tactile communication from my days sitting in on social psychology lectures all those years ago – I didn’t (which may be a good or bad thing) but I do have a couple of references:

The transparent self by Sidney Jourard

Successful nonverbal communication (4th edition) by Leathers and Eaves

The psychology of interpersonal behaviour by Michael Argyle


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