Communications, Synchronicity and Interruptibility
Yeah, snappy title, nailed it. No matter, we soldier on. It’s not like I don’t want this to be read, I do. There are many ways I could attempt to get you to cast your eye over this. When I’ve finished I could print it out and come round your house and read it out on your doorstep. But that would be wrong, wouldn’t it? Aside from making this bit quite metafictional.
I could phone you and read it out, I probably have or can get your landline number. Brrrng, brrrrng, “Hello, yeah, I’ve got this new blog post I want to read to you.”
But you might not be in, so I’ll phone your mobile. I’m bound to have that number. “Oh, you’re in the pub? No matter, I’ve got a blog post…”
Let’s drop the meta fiction. The point isn’t best made with blog posts. I clearly would like this to be read than more people than my network of friends.
Consider a message. A short message. I want to get it to someone. I have a myriad of choices of ways that it could get delivered. The first thing I’ll subconsciously decide is how important the message is. The importance is driven by a number of factors.
- How quickly do I need to get the message to you?
- Do I need to guarantee that you get the message?
- Do I need a reply?
- How well do I know this person?
- What time is it?
All of these questions combine to determine one simple thing. What level of interruption I’m comfortable with when delivering the message. Knocking on your door and reading out this post to you standing dripping in a towel may cause some slight consternation but if I had just seen someone steal your car it would be not only acceptable but desirable.
We go through these same questions when we first receive the comms. What do we think when the landline rings late at night?
Important, synchronous, after 10pm -> close friend/relative -> someone has died.
The comms mechanisms are so attached to the nature of the content that we make assumptions on content based purely on the media.
We are all emotional beasts and, usually unknowingly, we make these decisions all the time when choosing communications channels.
If something is really important/time critical we choose something synchronous, we talk, we may instant message if we can see you online. If we’re telling you a joke or offering a new blog post to read we’ll throw things out into the stream of social media. Like a dog dropping a newspaper at your feet, we look at you with sad eyes and say “there’s my thing, read it, don’t read it, it’s up to you, but let’s be clear, I’m not considering this important enough to interrupt you with it“. ( Then with a sneaky retweet the desperation will leak out! )
The asynchronous nature of social media is what helps drive the volume. We don’t consider it an interruption, we’re not too embarrassed to talk. To send messages to people we don’t know. Harass celebs in the hope of interaction. Twitter in particular is communication free from the concerns of interruption. So we all squawk like mad. We’re mostly noise. But hey, we’re not upsetting anyone.
You can also see this in the changes in email over the years. Email has become more like a dump stream. It’s considered less of an interruption and no one feels that worried about dropping things into your inbox. It wasn’t always that way.
Another blurring is Facebook messaging. I recently sent someone a non-important message late at night as a Facebook message thinking it was a simple dump for reading later. I was surprised to get an instant reply. I was trying for an asynchronous message relay and ended up with synchronous chat.
You’ll see this happen a lot when you’re organising something. The nearer you get to the event the more synchronous and with greater levels of interruption the communications get. You start with a broadcast email weeks out. “We’re meeting at 8pm on 17th.” By 7:30pm on the 17th I’ll be texting, phoning with more fine grained info. I won’t mind interrupting you then because I’ll believe that 30 minutes out, you’re now in the context of my event and it’s not a problem for me to interrupt. Had I started that a few hours earlier it may have been prudent but it would have felt wrong.
Social media is well named. Not just because it allows us to be ‘social’ – it allows us to communicate in ways that work within the constraints of what we consider socially acceptable.
Interruptibility sits at the heart of all communications choices we make. It has silently driven the social media boom in the way that a phone book with everyone in it never did. Yes there are technology enablers, yes there is availability, ease of use and democracy of access but more than anything there is asynchronous lack of interruption. We’re bashful beasts really, aren’t we? You’re not? Ok then, phone me!
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I’d also like non-geek points for not once using any reference to non-maskable interrupts.