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Less communication can be more

Published: May 02, 2014 (over 3 years ago)
Updated: over 3 years ago

Have you noticed how “plugged in” you are lately? I recently rejoined the social media scenes after being almost universally absent for about three years. Yes, you read that right. No twitter, no Facebook, no Reddit, no Flickr, no Tumblr, no social anything. At least not the casual, screwing off kind. About the only social thing I did was email, IRC, Stack Overflow, Google Groups and Github which were all explicitly used in work-related efforts to communicate with fellow software developers on work gigs or contributing back to open source projects and little else. Email is the main outlier for personal communication and exchanges for me.

I reckon three years in Internet time is a decade in layperson’s time. In that time, Twitter went from mostly a geek’s communication medium and social outlet to being ingrained into most companies culture. Facebook has undergone radical interface changes and two or three major privacy breach crises and an IPO. Both now have formal business advertising models and are monetizing the heck out of its large subscriber base.

When you plug in, the hardest thing, by far is to be disciplined enough to check up on what people are doing when you’re trying to get through a work-day. Unfortunately, once you join a conversation on Twitter or Facebook, your email inbox springs to life with a boatload of “blah, blah, blah…” and its your friends so of course you gotta go check it out to see what all the chatter is about. And of course, if you post compelling content publicly, people respond to that and you feel obligated to respond back and so the chain continues.

Its interesting to see so many articles like “What I Learned After Quitting Email For A Week” about people unplugging as a social experiment. I’ve been doing the Internet thing since the late 80’s at Georgia Tech and IBM long before the Internet went commercial and it was largely a researcher’s dream playground and social platform – that is, if you knew UNIX well enough to get around. So, when I read one of these disconnect articles, it really takes me back to those days. Would you believe that if you sent an unsolicited email to someone who didn’t know you, you were at risk of getting the proverbial wrist slap about how spamming is frowned upon? Especially if you were obviously a student and you were “off topic” from the recipient’s “areas of interest.” At first, the fellow researchers kept things in check when the Internet started commercializing in the 90’s with their netiquette manifestos that got spread like the gospel to all new ‘net citizens as they came online. But people will be people and the status quo was simply stampeded and toppled like Mom’s after a Tickle Me Elmo in 1996.

For me, I’m navigating the social waters more than ever because its the most cost-effective way to get the word out on “Chaperone”. But its definitely not without its challenges imposed on my need to really focus on bringing Chaperone to the market. I used to set up incoming filters to sort my emails into different pigeon holes, but there’s just no keeping up. These days, I use my cell phone, no so much to check and read emails, as to rapidly scan through all the new emails, touch to select (in bulk), and hit the trashcan button without ever reading those messages. I’d say about 95% of what’s coming into my inbox is completely purposeless (its just noise). With what’s left over, I’ll open and read if its from a business client or someone I’m meeting up with eminently, and ignore pretty much everything else to open read later at my desktop.

The real challenge in all this social interaction is learning to spot the big waves and get out in front and ride those to the beach while letting all the other waves go by. Learning to set aside all social communication for blocks of time highly focused on getting something done is just about the only solution I have to my quandary, but it definitely takes a lot of effort and discipline to achieve the ideal balance of work/play/interact. One thing I’ve definitely noticed by checking in less frequently is that you really start to see just how much is purposeless – nothing of value gained by reading or responding. If I don’t respond, nobody will notice! If I do respond, I’m consciously choosing to do so because the topic at hand or the person’s perspective at that moment is resonating strongly with me and hopefully my response is purposeful.

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