walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Who Still Thinks, "Because You Asked, I Must Respond Immediately"?

In about 1990, give or take a year, I was spending a lot of time on "talk" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk_%28software%29), the Ken Case/Wil Shipley bb at the UW, and email. (I was never on IRC.) I distinctly remember that adrenaline high that was extremely hard to get back off of -- participating in some kind of online communication that had gotten kinda fraught and waiting to see how people were going to respond to one's latest contribution.

Someone pointed out -- and not gently either -- that expecting any kind of immediate response to anything online was nuts and a sign that you were a newbie or worse. Okay then. Send it and forget it. I won't say I _never_ got antsy waiting to hear back about anything ever again, but I will say that I eventually found a need to put reminders to myself to check back with someone if I hadn't heard back within a certain time frame if I needed a reply for planning purposes, to deal with the open loop/dropped ball problem.

Recently (call it the last several months to a year) I've been seeing more and more objections to online communication and devices which support online communication, in which the argument amounts to this.

When you send me something (email, a text, a chat request, something shows up on my smart watch), I feel compelled to respond instantly, and if I do not, my ability to focus on anything else deteriorates. I cannot afford to have any more devices in my life that make it even easier for this stuff to get my attention, so I'm not on [name social media platorm], and I only check email twice a day and no way am I ever going to buy a SmartWatch because I couldn't cope with the constant distractions.

Today, Nate over at the excellent Ink, Bits & Pixels blog (Formerly known as The Digital Reader) included a response to one of these arguments in his Daily Coffee:


the author is responding to this, at HBR:


In it, Maura Thomas outlines some technology and policy being used within companies that realize that "always on" corporate cultures are not the big successes that mindless corporate drones might hope to be. The policies are designed to discourage communication between certain hours and the technology is designed to let you "send" communications during off hours but delay delivery until after the You Should Be Sleeping/Spending Time With Your Family window ends.

Thomas' article is excellent, and a much needed antidote to a particularly obnoxious aspect of some corporate cultures.

Mitch Joel's response (at twistimage) is a straightforward, hey, I didn't _need_ you to respond right away, what is up with your newbie or worse expectations going on here don't blame me. Which, honestly, is mostly how I feel about this kind of argument.

"With that, there is no doubt that many people in the workforce don't understand how to manage their technology, or the expectations of their fellow team members. While it may be easy to point the finger at email and smartphones as the culprits in this always-on, real-time and 24/7 work cycle, the blame lies with the people. If suddenly people have become addicted to their devices or feel the need to respond as some sort of one-upping of their peers, they would find a way to do it if email never existed. With that, setting expectations is critical, but let's not point the finger at off-campus emailing as some kind of indicator that brands are suddenly less creative, innovative or productive. If something as simple as when emails are sent is sending your business into a tailspin, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that something was going to get you, regardless."

But while I _feel_ like Mitch Joel has a valid point (technology didn't create this problem -- it just gave you more opportunities to display it), I recognize that Maura Thomas is the one who actually has some meaningful solutions. Joel is telling you to massage your readers with words ("I don't expect an immediate response, just whenever you feel comfortable") and we all have a good idea about how well that works (really well -- for some people; not at all, or exacerbating for everyone else). Maura Thomas is pointing you at specific tools.

And the differences between Joel and Thomas provide a wonderful spectrum for making sense of Timothy Egan's emotional response to the Apple Watch in the NYT recently:


I look at the Watch and go, aha! Having carefully pruned notifications on my phone down to what I actually might care about, the Watch now guarantees I will _get_ those notifications in the form of a haptic interface no one else is going to hear because I set the phone down on the table next to me and which I won't miss because the phone shifted in my pocket and lost connection to my physical self. I will get those notifications, I can discreetly filter them, and continue to do whatever the hell else I was doing (my Dutch lesson, breakfast with a friend, etc.). I can explain the glance at my wrist if that seems appropriate, but no one is likely to notice even in as intimate a setting as an IEP meeting, much less something bigger and less focused on me.

I'm way off on the I'll Pay Attention To You When I'm Fucking Well Ready To end of the spectrum. Egan is ... not.

"God knows how many times I’ve sneaked away from the table just to peek at a football score, a “Daily Show” clip, a text, a photo or email, my Amazon book number. What a miserable wretch. But it could be worse: I have a friend who texts while skiing."

I've seen people using FB on rides at WDW. Not just in line, either. Altho to be fair, after about round 6 or 7 on the Aladdin magic carpet ride, I'm usually checking my mail, too.

A successful organization needs to make the world work for all of us, needs to make sure that we can all continue pulling towards the same goals. That's what etiquette is for. And it looks like online contact etiquette is slowly moving away from The Responsibility Is On the Recipient To Filter to The Responsibility Is On the Sender To Consider the Time of Day and Day of the Week. Which is a _good_ thing. Because otherwise, eventually even going home or staying late in order to get some work done would stop working for the rest of us, because all those people pestering us would never, ever, ever stop.
Tags: our future economy today

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