Sunday, 29 June 2008
For the past several months I have had the pleasure of improving my communication effectiveness while at the same time reducing my reliance and the massive amount of time I used to spend on email. Tools like Twitter, blogging, and - yes - actively making sure I am using the telephone (remember that thing?) have all contributed to my big picture of improvement: Use better tools where they make the most sense, rather than relying on the cumbersome and often ineffective email medium.

What prompts me to write this? Luis Suarez works for IBM and today's NY Times online contains a piece written by him where he discusses his change away from email. I can relate and have had many of the same experiences.

Email is often chastised for a variety of shortcomings, among them the frustrating fact that often people come across (or are perceived) in a way they do not intend. Maybe the reader perceives the writer is angry or being short when that's not the intent. If I had a dime for every email-miscommunication I'd observed (or been a part of), I'd be a rich man.

Systems like Twitter (assuming you can forgive that app's famous reliability and availability issues), allow community information sharing in a manner you can never get with email, and which classic instant messaging doesn't quite do. Post your thoughts, questions or whatever you're up to and others who want to follow your thoughts can read then in your "tweets." And if they wish they can respond, either publicly (called replying) or in private (called direct-messaging). Twitter is basically a public broadcast communication system of short messages, with private messaging capabilities also available. All Twitter communication is (hopefuly) archived for access and reference later on if you like. The signal-to-noise ratio, however, can be quite high, especially when people use it like an instant messaging client (which it is not really suited for, in my opinion). You can tune the SNR of your tweet feed by choosing whose communications you subscribe to. Too much noise from Joe? Just stop following his tweet stream.

Instant messaging is well-suited for casual, right-now conversations where archiving in the "cloud" is not as important. I can archive all of my instant messages locally, but I have to be on the archiving computer where I was writing to read the archives. It makes it easy to do provate chats with one person and add another person(s) if needed, although my use is almost always 1:1.

Of course, email works well - even best - for some things. I try to avoid using it as a filing cabinet, or at least limit it to specific critical uses. But by pulling all the real-time conversations out and using the real- or near-real-time tools, by email bloat has been significantly reduced, hence the amount of time I need to spend in it is less than the quality of the time I do spend there is higher.

Finally, the telephone. When it comes to making personal connections, nothing beats hearing the other person and them being able to hear you. It's real time in the most "real" sense. You can argue that voice and video capabilities of IM applications fill this need, and you'd be right. But there is something about the phone that really works well.

One other side effect of the technology growth I have noticed (and it's also probably a result of life changes for me as well) is that I don't blog quite as much as I used to. A lot of the quick thoughts that I used to turn into blog entries end up being tweets on Twitter or IM messages (or just left sitting on my brain's virtual table).

How have you changed your communication habits as a result of technology? Or have you?

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Sunday, 29 June 2008 11:27:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Monday, 30 June 2008 09:58:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Great post, Greg. About IM and archiving...thats one of the many things I love about Gmail and integrated Gtalk. Every chat is saved for me in my gmail account and I can easily search them. They also have an "off the record" option if you don't want something on record. I know Google is taking over our lives, but man do I love what they do for my online life!
Monday, 30 June 2008 11:06:52 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Oh yeah, technology has definitely changed the way I communicate.
My brother and I instant message each other more than we actually talk.
One of my friends HATES talking on the phone, so text messaging is our primary means of communication when we're not hanging out.

I don't blog as much either any more - twitter & twitpic are my "new blog".

I also agree with you about the telephone and personal connections. My girlfriend and I don't text (she does enjoy the occasional "sweet nothing" text message, but she hasn't bothered to learn how to send text messages), we don't instant message and we rarely email... we talk on the phone when we're not connected at the hip ;). Funny thing is, if it wasn't for the internets and all this other fancy technology at our disposal, we never would've met.
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