Is "flow" the new normal, or just a passing fad? Stowe Boyd argues eloquently that it is the new normal, but not everyone agrees. His talk at Reboot9 (it looked pretty similar to the talk he gave at Etel) took a swipe at Linda Stone's characterization of Continuous Partial Attention as a disorder. Stowe's view is that staying connected and in the flow of communications is the new order and therefore critical to success; Linda's view is that it can be an impediment to thoughtfulness.
Coincidentally, the Globe and Mail's Karen von Hahn wrote a piece published yesterday titled Note to phonies: reach out and touch someone … in front of you. She writes that there is a 'growing divide between people who are physically and spiritually present, in the sense of being "in the room," and those who aren't', and refers to the connected people who aren't present as phonies.
Is it also a coincidence that in recent weeks prominent bloggers have been choosing to disconnect? Ken Camp turned off Twitter for a week, and didn't miss it. Robert Scoble announced last week that his blogging would be slowing down, because he was going to work on getting back into shape. Mark Evans has chosen to not check BlackBerry mail after 6 PM.
Nope. The backlash against incessant connectedness is real. Everyone knows someone who isn't wholly present during meetings because of email, or IM. Some of us also know people who email from the car. I've even seen people carry on IM conversations while driving, typing with both thumbs, while one hand lightly grips the wheel.
Continuous Partial Inattention might be a better term.
I had a manager early in my career who forced himself to place his desk and computer so that his back would be facing the door when anyone came to see him. That way, in order to have the meeting, he would have to turn to face the person, and turn his back on the email. If "flow" is the new normal, then we need tools and the discipline to be able to step out of the flow and be present for those that are present for us, as this man chose to. We need tools to allow us to manage that flow as well — turning it up or down, and increasing or decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio.
Is it a disorder? For some, yes. Is it an impediment to thoughtfulness? Hell, yes. But it probably is the new normal, and not just a fad. And that means we're all going to have to figure it out.