Here’s a book recommendation for you – The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. Not only does he explain why we have man drawers – it’s something to do with not being able to find a logical home for things (which incidentally makes me feel a whole lot better about my own somewhat chaotic approach to storage) – but he also talks about how the human mind remembers things.
Levitin is a James McGill Professor of Psychology, Behavioural Neuroscience and Music at McGill University in Montreal and is clearly much smarter than me, but the gist of his argument is that whilst digital content, be it junk email, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony or videos of skateboarding cats, is all made up of 1s and 0s, physical objects have numerous different attributes – size, shape, weight, smell, texture – and that makes them much, much easier to remember because the whole brain can get involved. Memory is multidimensional.
If I close my eyes and hold a book in my hands, I can feel its weight, its size, shape and texture. I can tell if it’s hardback or paperback. I can tell if it’s old or new by its smell. Either is fine by me; second-hand bookshops and fresh ink both hit the spot. I can listen to the delicious fiff fiff fiff as I riffle the pages with my thumb. And then I open my eyes and get to explore the book visually. There’s a lot going on here and my mind is absorbing it all.
So, what happens when so many of our experiences are only one-, or occasionally two-, dimensional? Well, we get withdrawal symptoms. By living in a purely digital world, we are effectively subjecting ourselves to sensory deprivation. Sure it may be convenient and cool, but it’s so soulless. I’ve been in houses where the owner has proudly boasted that all their music, movies, photos and books are in the cloud. I’ve gazed at their miserable vistas of gleaming white melamine devoid of any focal point, and while I am happy to acknowledge that minimalism makes dusting so much easier, I’ve wanted to scream.
And I’m not alone.
So, the fact that physical stuff is having a comeback doesn’t surprise me for a moment. The millennials have discovered vinyl. My daughter was recently given Ed Sheeran’s + on vinyl for her 18th birthday. She hasn’t got a record player, but she doesn’t care. It’s so much nicer than a download. The printed book is alive and well, despite the predictions that eBooks would be its death knell. And then there’s physical DM.
We all love getting parcels, don’t we? We adore clicking “Buy now” buttons, but waiting for, and ultimately, receiving that beautiful brown cardboard box is so much better. Admit it, “Download Complete” messages don’t come close. If anything vaguely three-dimensional arrives at our office, by post or courier, it attracts attention. Everyone looks at it and wonders “Whose is that?”, “What’s in it?” and “Is that mine?”
And everyone hates email. I don’t know what the latest statistic is regarding how long you’ve got to make an impression with an email before the recipient hits the delete button, but I’m not interested in creating campaigns with a life expectancy of nanoseconds. I doubt you’ll find a creative who is.
Then there’s retargeted banners following you round the internet, flashing and winking, butting into stuff you’re trying to read, playing a digital version of Grandmother’s Footsteps with you as you scroll up and down the page. No, banners don’t do it for me either.
If you want your recipient to focus on you and you alone, you need an environment that’s clear of distractions. Physical DM may be enjoying a resurgence, but the nation’s desks are still relatively empty (maybe those much-maligned Clear Desk Policies have got something going for them). After all, it’s better to whisper in a library than shout in a crowd at a football match.