Connecting with the absent presence
Over pre-Easter drinks this weekend, my friend Sara told me about the theory of absent presence. Sara related this theory to the majority of people she sees in Chicago, her fair city, riding trains, walking through neighborhoods and sitting in Starbucks all while connected to their iPods and cell phones. She defined absent presence as: people that are physically there, next to you, but because of their technology, have no interaction with anyone else. They simply are there, not active. They are absent in their presence.
I had to dig deeper into this theory, as it has critical implications on delivering marketing messages to a growing majority of the population. A simple Google search shows that Sara's application of absent presence to her fellow "L" inhabitants is just one example of how absent presence is changing communities and communication.
I found a story Dennis K. Berman wrote that highlights the effects absent presence has on work, community and personal life.
Absent presence is caused by an overabundance of technology and an increasing accessibility to e-mail, entertainment, news and correspondence. At the surface, it seems enlightening – more information is better and more accessibility to communication will further one’s relationships. But as I (and anyone else who carries a BlackBerry, or more than one battery-operated device) can confirm, this accessibility can create less access to one's full attention.
What does this mean for marketers? Advertisements are passed without a glance, radio and television commercials are virtually eliminated and news is filtered and delivered in headline form. More importantly, people aren't talking to each other, eliminating another powerful opportunity for word of mouth and brand reputation building. As information moves faster and content is crunched to fit our summary-only society, marketers must also move faster and craft more concise messages.
Not convinced absent presence is an issue for the everyday brand to address? Next time you're on the train, walking to lunch or waiting in public, cue up your favorite MP3 mix, text message your friend and check your voicemail, and realize what you're not seeing, hearing and saying in your absent presence.