‘When will you have the time?’ A look at the ultimate finite communication resource

21 Oct

As the title suggests, this section of the first programme in the new series is all about time. We hear more from Jennifer Veitch of the National Research Council of Canada, along with:

  • Ray Moore, business coach and author,
  • Rob Jones, CEO of multi-platform media production company USP Content and
  • Big Ben – ‘Old Father Time himself!’


I first worked with Ray in 2012, when I designed and delivered a workshop to help his clients make better use of the phone. A few months later, I talked about it in the occasional series Rob and I do for the website. The link with Rob goes back a few more years – in fact, more years than either of us cares to admit! The story is certainly too long to tell here, although there are some clues in one of last year’s posts – ‘Media people aren’t real, are they?!’


This section of the new show outlines the impact of time on human communication in general and business communication in particular, in terms of:

  • Our desire to control the clock
  • Some of the options the digital age has given us for doing that and
  • How to start managing what we can’t control.


Ray’s contribution comes from the audio version of his first book: ‘The Levels: Can your business step up to the growth challenge’, which Speak For Yourself had the pleasure of producing in 2014.


Ray calls time one of the four drivers behind, in front and in the middle of your business’. The other three are:

  • Team
  • Money and
  • Delivery.


He argues that an organisation can only grow if all four drivers are in balance. So it follows that if we’re not managing our time to the best of our ability, however hard we work, we’re stunting the operation’s growth. Ray focuses on business, but the same goes for any kind of organisation, public or private.


The starting point is to recognise that time is the ultimate finite resource. Yes, we can leap across time-zones in a click; yes, we can stretch and compress the time we have; and yes, we can even move it around to suit ourselves; but, as I point out on the programme, we still can’t fill our twenty-four hour cities and workplaces with twenty-four hour humans.


Jennifer explains the science behind that fact, while Rob offers a practical suggestion, from personal experience. His clip comes from a radio show we did together in 2012 – the final programme in the run I mentioned last time (fortunately, our edition was pre-recorded, in the comfort of USP’s studios – so we didn’t have to contend with movable walls or concrete being dug up a few yards away!). When we made that programme, we took advantage of one of the biggest temporal benefits of digital communication – time-shifting.


Actually, this ability has been with us since the birth of recording, but the digital age has made it more accessible to everyone. The way most of us experience it (consciously at least) on a day-to-day basis, is through the option to pre-record, play back and fast-forward through our favourite programmes when we choose; but we engage in it whenever we:

  • Send an email
  • Post on social media or
  • Create audio or video for the web.


A shift can be what I’ll call:

  • Double or
  • Single and both can be:
    • overt or
    • covert.


Each kind of shift changes the shape of the communication process (the sending and receiving of a message) in different ways. A communication is double time-shifted where:

  • The sender of a message chooses when to send and
  • The recipient chooses when to pick up.


For instance, I record the programmes in the current series at the time that best suits me and you can download them at the time that best suits you. Single time-shifting is where:

  • The sender can choose when to send but
  • The recipient can’t choose when to receive.


For example, back in June, I recorded a radio feature on ‘sound tennis’ for The Wireless from Age UK. Several people have asked me when they could catch it, but the only answer I’ve been able to give them is: ‘You have to be in the right place at the right time’.


Several ninety-second pieces are woven into the schedule each day and you have to catch them when they pop up – unless they make it on to the Listen Again section of the website. Whether the shift is double or single, if it’s overt, everyone knows what’s going on. I know I’m talking to someone who isn’t actually listening at that precise moment and you know you’re listening to a recording I made earlier.


Most online media is overtly double-time-shifted. The biggest challenge is that interaction can be a bit tricky. Inevitably, there’s a time-lag – sometimes a significant one – between sending and receiving, and between each message and the reply.


At a Radio Academy event on podcasting in 2014, one very experienced programme-maker did complain (good naturedly) about getting emails picking up on something which had been mentioned on the show six years ago – ‘Because for the listener,’ he said, ‘if they’ve only just listened, it’s not six years ago – it’s today!’ On the whole, though, the benefits of overt time-shifting (be it double or single) outweigh the risks.


Covert time-shifting is a different animal. As my choice of name suggests, it involves some secrecy – dare I say, deception? This is what happens when, for example, a programme is pre-recorded but the viewer or listener believes it’s live. So have I ever indulged in this dodgy practice? Er, well … yes, I’m afraid so … Ironically, the programme with Rob is a prime example. I was open about the fact that our conversation was recorded … but I ‘forgot’ to mention that my intro and outro were also not live …! I got away with the illusion – but if I’d been caught out, I’d have risked losing my listener’s trust.


Perhaps, in time, time-shifted communication will be the norm for everyone. That possibility was brought home to me not so long ago, in a presentation by Professor Sean Street of Bournemouth University (recently retired). A member of the audience told the story of a colleague who’s little boy couldn’t grasp the idea that not every event could be rewound and watched again and again – that an image or sound might just happen in the moment, and then be gone.


According to Sherry Turkle of MIT, it isn’t just toddlers who expect that level of control. In her 2012 TED Talk, she said that when she asked people ‘What’s wrong with having a conversation?’, one of the common answers was, ‘They happen in real time’. Whether or not it’s possible to have a ‘conversation’ worth the name using time-shifted communication is something we’ll come back to later in this series, and in future series.


As I’ve said before – and will say again – conversations are among the foundation stones of the relationships which underpin our personal and professional lives. Those relationships are the subject of the next part of the programme and so, the next post.


In the meantime, if you have any feedback questions or communication issues you’d like to chat through come and talk to me! All the details are on the website.


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