Journeying into the business world... one undiscovered culture at a time

Welcome to [Per]Suit of Anthropology, a blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist, with a special emphasis on cultural understandings of work-life balance and disability rights in the workplace. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include: Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide, invisible disabilities, Ignatian spirituality, work-life balance, and some discussion of issues of tourism and its impacts on culture, and common human capital practices in private industry and government.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The way we communicate

Last night, I finished watching the final episode of "The Big Silence," a documentary created by BBC2.  In the show, it takes five people from all over the UK, and has them explore the purposeful silence in their life.  They are led on their journey by Fr. Christopher, of Worth Abbey (full disclosure, I had the chance while studying in England to go on a weekend retreat at Worth. The priest on 'loan' to the Cambridge Newman Center was a former Abbot of Worth Abbey, and gave us the chance to go there for a weekend retreat.  I thus had the opportunity to meet the priests featured in the program - truly an amazing experience if anyone is looking for a place to make a silent or guided retreat).  I would also highly suggest watching BBC 2's "The Monastery" - the first of these series that gave five men the opportunity to live in a Benedictine Monastery, and to see the results of which play out in "live TV."

At any rate, the program "The Big Silence" is meant to give the watchers a cause to pause and reflect on just how busy we are filling our lives with things. There are the obvious perpetrators such as digital devices, the television and cell phones.  But the program also touches on deeper issues, such as our inability to be in company with those around us without filling the time/place with noise.  Or the habit of many people to go, go, go in every moment of their life with a constant to-do list, which necessitates constant movement (heaven forbid we let one moment lapse - that would be laziness!).

I have dawdled with the idea of silence for the past few years.  Growing up Catholic, I always loved going on retreats - especially now as a working adult.  To spend time in a place outside of a city, where one could hear the cacophony of birds and animals outside, well, to me just feels like being wrapped up in a blanket of luxuriousness.  However, despite how much people gain from silence and pause, we seem to revert back to ever more-connected means of communications.

It led me to ponder upon going to bed last night, what impact is the lack of silence and self-reflection having on our culture as a whole?  Are we stifling ourselves from the moments of reflection that can lead to genuine insight?  Are we overbooking ourselves into mediocrity?  What is happening, as a result, to our ability to communicate with others either by person or through written media?

On the one hand, it can be very easily argued that improvements in communication have made it so much easier to communicate.  I can use Skype to call friends all over the world - or pop an email to my Aunt in England asking her for her recipe for Yorkshire Pudding, and receive an almost instantaneous response.  Yet on the other hand, how is our new method of communicating via tweets and texts changing how we actually think and make decisions - is everything now being condensed to 140 characters?  If so, what are we loosing as a result, or what are we gaining?

The thoughts above took me back to an undergraduate Anthropology class I had at Michigan, where I remember reading Invitations to Love: Literacy, Love Letters, and Social Change in Nepal, where Professor Ahearn discussed the impact of written language had on traditional marriage rituals and ceremonies.  I never made the connection before, but is it possible that we are witnessing our own shift in cultural values and implications of that shift in real-time?  Admittedly, linguistic anthropology was never my strong suit, but still the fascination of how our language is both a by-product of our time, and a key shaper of how we relate to the world is fascinating.

And that brings me back to the whole silence question.  Last week, a boss of mine posed a question to our internal group and that is should we consider taking a one day electronic hiatus?  He was inspired by this article, but the responses of the crowd at large was fascinating.  Most everyone responded "yes, we need an unplugged day."  A few keen observers though had the insight of why do we think of this technology as somehow impeding our communication - why is it not just an innate part of culture, where it is seen as natural as it was to use the original land-line telephones to communicate (as opposed to writing letters or going over to your neighbor's house to 'call' upon them).  Regardless of what you think of the use of electronic devices, I do think that we each need to have our moments of silence.  Where we can take the wealth of information before us, have time to meditate, or to pray, and to see how new innovations and solutions - or perhaps questions to answers that impede us may bubble to the surface.

I am curious to know the general populations' thought on this.  Agree/disagree?  Anyone have a better understanding of the paradigmatic shift we're seeing when it comes to our language?