People Who ‘Get’ It

I’ve noticed something odd.There are people who ‘get’ it, and people who don’t. There’s no real trend to it, my grandparents seem to ‘get’ it, some friends of mine in their 20s don’t.

But I have found an easy way of spotting them.

Say Hello To Them On Facebook Chat

The people who ‘get’ it handle this well. The people who don’t ‘get’ it, waste a huge amount of time and effort on both sides.

To explain this better, imagine you say hello to two people in facebook chat, Alice and Bob. Alice ‘gets’ it, Bob doesn’t. So you say hello, and both respond, and conversation starts, and 2 minutes later, you ask them a question, but they don’t see it as they closed the window.

This is when things diverge. That night, you’re at the cinema, or otherwise preoccupied, when Alice and Bob go back on to facebook, and they see your message. Alice ‘gets’ it and responds. Bob doesn’t ‘get’ it though, he doesn’t respond, you’re not online.

Later on, you return home and see Alice has responded, but Bob hasn’t, so you reply to Alice, and the conversation continues. The entire conversation with Alice happens asynchronously, just like it would with email, letters, SMS/Texts, etc

The next day Bob comes online, and you attempt to continue the conversation. Bob says hello, how are you? What have you been up to? Bob has started a new conversation. Bob doesn’t ‘get’ it.

Bob is doomed to repeat the same conversational niceties over and over again. Bob will never respond if you’re not online when he sees the message, he doesn’t ‘get’ it. People who don’t ‘get’ it have problems with asynchronous models of communication, such as the combination of IM and messages in facebook, or the asynchronous following and sharing model of twitter. The sight of an online vs offline status throws them into synchronous face to face mode, and they don’t accept that this isn’t the case.

This cripples their ability to co-exist on such systems with other people who do or don’t ‘get’ it.

More can be read about synchronous vs asynchronous forms of telecommunication here.

Why Is This Important?

Because  Alice earns more money, wastes less time, puts in less effort, yet gets more done, she ‘gets’ it. She can manage her workflow and do things when it best suits her. An article on the advantages & disadvantages of email makes the case:

No disruption: A direct consequence of asynchronicity is that your mental work will not be disrupted. That might be the number one advantage of avoiding instant communication. Disruptive communication may ruin your creative work while your mind is constantly taken away from the problem in focus. It can also wreak havoc on your schedule. It is extremely easy to chat away time allocated for a creative activity. Some people are even able to chat the whole days away and wonder why so little work had been done. Naturally, this affects also those who regularly monitor their Inbox or turn on sound notifications to know when new mail arrives.

The mental tax of checking if I’m online, restarting dialog makes Bob cost more to support as a client, and harder to socialise with. Despite it being completely avoidable he exerts more effort doing tasks, when the irony is he’s probably doing it to save time/effort.

Example: Meetings vs Chatrooms

A notable article by Zach Holman demonstrates the way Github is ran:

37signals originated meetings are toxic in Getting Real. I tend to loathe meetings even more than 37signals. I despise them.

Meetings are usually called when you need to hash something out. They tend to invite more people than necessary, and even if you’re pretty interested in the meeting topic, you’re still going to be frustrated because meetings pull you from doing actual work in order to talk about doing work. It’s easier to push a branch up, check out the diff, and then iterate on that diff rather than assuming you’re going to perfectly whiteboard system design ahead of time.

The use of chatrooms at Github means people can review what’s been said at a time that suits them, and respond in kind. The same is true of many support systems and message boards. A support phone call or a boardroom meeting however forces everybody to come into the here and now.

Sadly some people don’t get it, they need meetings. Chat or forums are too informal for them and they want everything in realtime all at once.

Of course sometimes you need to interrupt someone else, sometimes they have something you need to continue, those are blocks and necessitate direct synchronous communication, the difference being that this isn’t always the case, and for some people it’s the default.

What Might Be Behind This?

Part of the problem is the great shift in how humans see the world of the 20th century. This was remarked upon in great detail by the BBC documentary “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”:

At the beginning of the 20th century, if presented with a selection of various domesticated and wild animals, people would classify them by what they did. Tigers and wolves would be predators, cows and pigs would be produce, horses and trains would be put together, etc.

21st century thinking however places things in a more abstract sense based on what they are, rather than what they do. Tigers and Leopards are cats, computers  and alarm clocks are electronics, orange and yellow are no longer bright, they’re colours.

It is the people who have shifted to this method of thinking that have succeeded in modern life. They’re the top end programmers, marketers & thinkers of our age. They’re more creative and adaptable as they can make abstract connections others can’t.

These people ‘get’ it.

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