Are We Over-Communicating?

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

Is it just me or does there seem to be too much communication going on? Too much information flowing? Too much digital, virtual work to keep recreation professionals stuck to their desks instead of being out in the real world?

Don’t get me wrong--I’m not a dinosaur plodding along the information super-highway. I do e-mail, I have a cell phone, I use a PDA (that’s personal digital assistant, sometimes called a personal data assistant, for you dinosaurs). I have a set of short-range radios I can use to keep track of the family when we’re on vacation or at the mall. Hey, I even have an iPod and download podcasts from iTunes.

So it’s not that I have technophobia or resist new communication methods. It’s just that I think we have way too many means of communication, and there’s too much information for us average Joes to keep up with.

Consuming Media

There are definitely those high-performance, type-AAA multi-taskers who can keep up with it all. You see them in the airport or the mall, with one of those phones that hang on the ear that make them look like a Secret Service agent. They are talking away, seemingly to no one, and then you get closer and see the little device hanging on their head. As they talk, they’re texting someone on their other phone … (or is it the same phone?), and checking their daily calendar while Googling their horoscope, and glancing at the blood-and-gore front page of The New York Times. They have their laptop computer at their side, working on two work projects and one personal letter, simultaneously, as the morning world news blares at them from the computer’s speakers. And somehow, they’re drinking coffee and eating a breakfast burrito at the same time!

Sure, this is an extreme example, but if you look at it on a ratio basis, the amount of information the average recreation professional absorbs in a day is just as daunting.

Slave To Technology

I mean, just e-mail alone can become a full-time job, and it seems like the more I use it, the worse it gets. I can remember--barely--when I first started using e-mail in the last century. If I had more than 10 e-mails in my inbox, it was a busy day. Now I can clean my inbox out, go to lunch, and have 30 new e-mails when I return. God forbid I go on vacation; it takes me a week or so to catch up.

Long ago, I thought that when I went away and put my “office assistant” on, I wouldn’t receive any e-mails. Was I wrong! The sender gets a message that I’m not there but the e-mail goes into my inbox. That’s like someone knocking on your door, you don’t answer, so the person walks in anyway. Is that invasive or what?

I once asked the IT person if I could shut my e-mail off when I went on vacation so I wouldn’t be stressed out within an hour after returning. He said no, the e-mails would go into a buffer, and when I returned, they would flood my inbox. He said the only way would be to take me off the system and then reinstate me when I came back.

So essentially we humans are slaves to the machine instead of the other way around. I feel like I’m living in a sci-fi movie. One day I expect my computer to refuse to let me go home, and I’ll be sucked into the virtual world never to see the light of day again.

Information OverloadMost of the e-mails at work also have some type of task attached to them. Generally, people don’t e-mail me at work just to say “hi.” They need me to “do” something. So now I have to keep track of past, present and future actions, calling for “folders” in the e-mail. It started innocently enough with a couple folders, but after 12 years on the job I have the equivalent of a truckload of folders, with information from 1997. I guess it’s better than having to maintain physical files, but sometimes it takes just as long to find a virtual file as it does a real one.

To add to the clutter, I also have a home e-mail and the added pleasure of viewing dozens of “new mail” messages in my “off” time.

Then there are the phones. I have a home phone, an office phone and a cell phone, which is also a radio. All the phones have “voice mail,” so if I’m not able--or don’t want--to take a call, a message can be left. That’s like that knocking-on-the-door analogy again.

I could go on and on. The television with a mega-zillion channels, the ability to tape programs that I can watch over and over again, the Internet with its unlimited information databases …

Lost In Cyberspace

Sadly, the one form of communication--and arguably the most important--that seems to be on the decline is person to person, face to face. Who has time to talk when there’s e-mail to catch up on and voice mails to answer and taped shows to watch?

I guess I am somewhat of a dinosaur. I long for the days when snail mail carried information at a pace my mind could keep up with. When memos went through layers of people before they got to me, days later. When a phone call led to a meeting where we took notes with pencils instead of those micro note pads.

Someone asked me the other day if I could “text message.” I snarled at him and bared my teeth, feeling a primal instinct to chase him as if he were small prey. Just call me Rex.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail