A Diminishing Willingness to Do or Try New Things

The technological inertia of adulthood, signified by a diminishing willingness to do or try new things.

I have been trying, without a great deal of success, to get my friends interested in using Slack to communicate with one another. Slack is a great service with mobile apps, desktop apps, and a really slick web interface that makes communicating with bigger groups of people really simple and easy.

However, I’ve been trying to get people jazzed about better communication services for the better part of 10 years now, and I’m mostly thwarted at every turn. I honestly feel, deep in my heart, that this failing isn’t because the services I’m advocating for (Google Wave, Facebook Messenger, Google+, Twitter, Google Hangouts, Slack) are objectively bad.

That being said, I also don’t think my friends, the people I want to keep in touch with the most, are idiots for not being as excited in the next big thing as I am. I am always on the lookout for new technology, but I know I’m rare in being that way. But I also know that there is value in what I’m trying to do.

When I first got a cell phone, SMS was the only method of communication I used (aside from the very occasional phone call). When I first got an email address, I would occasionally use it to email friends, but its much more vital use was to get me logged in to MSN Messenger.

I’ve always subscribed to a vast number of different communications services (as I broke down in my last post about this stuff), and I use many of them to keep in touch with just a handful of people. The people I talk to on a regular basis interact with me in a startling number of ways:

  • Some people I know I can reach most easily with SMS
  • Some I know will only check Facebook sporadically
  • Some who keep data turned off unless it’s an emergency
  • Some people I will only message through Google Hangouts
  • Some people answer messages during the day through one chat platform, but use another platform the rest of the time (even though both are available to them at all times).
In trying to make Slack a thing with my closest friends, what I’m really trying to do is make it really easy for those people to know exactly where and how they can reach me and each other, all the time. Maybe, for some people, that’s actually a failed premise. It’s just something that’s never going to happen.
It might be that no matter how hard I try, some people are just going to send me a text message when they want to reach me. And perhaps, that won’t change.
Liberal youth grow older and more conservative, even if their values never actually change in the process. I’m going to do my best to be adaptable, while advocating for new and better at every turn. We don’t have to define ourselves by who we are now, we can choose to present ourselves as the best we can be in the future.
Communication is a social contract we all enter into, and having it formalized might be scary or uncomfortable to some people. I don’t think it’s too lofty a goal to aim for better than a 14 person group thread in Facebook Messenger as a way for people from all walks of life to interact and figure their lives out. We can do better, and while I’m suggesting one specific option, I’m just trying to do the best I can today.

Communication is Broken

Communication is unbelievably important for a properly functioning society. And after ranting a little on Twitter this morning, now seems like as good a time as any to break down the best communication tools, why they’re good, and what they’re good for.

Today’s communication is broken, we can’t talk effectively with the people we’re closest to, and the very services that aim to bring us closer together are keeping us further apart than they need to. We can do better!

Let’s keep it really simple to start: 1-on-1 communication. It’s really hard to get this wrong, because it’s fundamentally the easiest thing to do. Effectively, communication between two people can be public, or private. There’s a continuum of more vs. less private, but almost every platform has options for private individual communication. Believe it or not, some people ONLY use these kinds of communication. Here are a few examples (they’re all really old school):

  • Phone Call (voice; tied to a phone number)
  • Email (text, with attachments; tied to an email address)
  • SMS (text, maybe photos; tied to a phone number)

Like I mentioned, some platforms advertise themselves as much more than private 1 on 1 communication, but they do still have that aspect available. These aren’t as limited, but can function in such a narrow way:

  • Snapchat (ephemeral photos/video and text; tied to an account on one phone at a time)
  • Skype (text, media attachments and video/audio calls; tied to an account with possibility of phone number)
  • iMessage (Text, photo/video, audio message; tied to an Apple ID, but can add phone numbers or email addresses)

Now, the services covered so far have mostly been private (Snapchat now has *public* Stories), but there are also communication methods that let you communicate with one person, but in public.

  • Facebook Wall Post (text, photos/video; tied to Facebook accounts)
  • Twitter Mention (text, photos/video; tied to Twitter accounts)
  • Google Hangout on Air (audio/video; tied to Google accounts)

These companies all have their respective private messaging platforms as well (Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, and Google Hangouts), which are useful for both individual and group messaging, but they all have their limits, and are easy to use inefficiently.

Now, instead of getting to the best services that offer the most diverse communication right away, let’s go through an exercise first.

I’m going to attempt to make a list of all of the communication platforms I make use of in the average week. This is a combination of mobile/desktop, 1-way or 2-way communication, personal/business…this is as exhaustive as I can be on the matter (in no particular order, I’m just going through my phone and computer):

Google Calendar
Google Drive
Google Photos
Facebook Messenger
Google Keep
News Sites
Customer Service Live Chat
Talking in Person

I’m sure, even given this exhausting list, that I’ve missed a couple of really obvious communication methods. That being said, they all have various reasons why I use them. I use some more than others, and for a variety of reasons some get used very little (sorry, Peach).

Having said all of that, The best communication methods I have at my disposal are easy to understand, but have diverse uses. I’m sure I could get by with any of these methods of communication on their own, but it would be difficult. Each has its limitations, and strengths.

In a perfect world, we would all agree to have accounts for all of these services, and all use whichever one we feel like at a given time. However, for me, the following is (in my mind), a perfect set of tools to satisfy all communications needs. Order in this list is VERY important, and changes/improvements to any of these services could change the order.

1. Slack
If I have you on my Slack team, and I know you actually have the app on your phone/computer or visit the website from time to time, this is by far the way I’m going to contact you. The way Slack integrates with the rest of the items on this list makes its prime spot a no-brainer.

2. Twitter
I love Twitter (and would only be able to love it more if they got rid of the 140 character limit, though there are plenty of reasons why that’s challenging). Twitter integrates well with Slack, and lets me follow cool people to keep up with the world better than any service I know how to. It’s also a semi-public conversation, and so you can kind of see what everybody is up to.

3. Hangouts
Having Hangouts on this list is a no-brainer, simply because of the video chat capability. Hangouts also integrates well with Slack, although I don’t use that feature much, but Slack’s link control is so good that it’s plenty for my needs.

4. Email
You always need a fall-back. Sometimes, you’re talking with a stranger, or a distant acquaintance. Sometimes, you just want to be notified of something that pertains to just you. In many cases, email is a good way for people you don’t have on Slack or Hangouts to get in touch with you privately (although Twitter is really fine for that too).

I’ve extolled the virtues of Slack before, and maybe it’s a failing on my part that so few of the people I’m closest to really get its appeal (since the people I do use it with really seem to get a lot out of it, and I use it extensively even just for my own personal non-communication needs).

I love Facebook Messenger, but really only because many people have Facebook accounts. If the people I talk to most on Messenger were on my Slack team and actually used the service, I wouldn’t use Messenger nearly as much. And having said that, though Messenger has taken great strides to make messaging fun, fast, and beautiful, it’s INCREDIBLY difficult to keep track of multiple threads, and for groups of close friends who talk about lots of different things, it’s a nightmare. Seriously, use a Slack team for your group of close friends.

I’m going to keep advocating for Slack and Twitter, because they have been essential to my modern life and I love communicating with them so much. I’m interested to see how communication changes as the online world creeps more and more into our every interaction, and what the next generation of communication services look like.

What’s the best way to communicate effectively? (January 10)

I’ve talked a LOT about messaging services. I’ve had conversations about them with various people for years, and in person or on a variety of those messaging services themselves.

I take communication very seriously, so when a new application comes out that purports to change the world by making it easier to keep in touch with important people, I take note. It was clear to me from the moment I first got a cell phone that SMS (text messages) wasn’t the future of anything.

When I first got online in a real way, the people I needed to keep in touch with were all using MSN Messenger. It was a chat application that, considering the era, was pretty advanced and had a lot of users. In fact, there are probably many people who never stopped using that, then Windows Live Messenger, and then its modern equivalent, Skype (after Microsoft bought Skype).

I’ve moved through many chat platforms claiming to be the best new thing, and several of them were. Facebook Messenger started off very slowly, but is now used by around a billion people on a regular basis. I used Google Talk through a lot of my university career, and it was really great when all my friends were on our work computers using Gmail all day every day.

Google Hangouts was my go-to chat platform from its inception until the middle of last year, and I still use that application for video calls and keeping in touch with family. I also keep in contact with many people, including some I’ve never met in person, through Twitter.

I think the fundamental issue with keeping up to date on what the best communication platform is, is simple. I think that there actually is no BEST communications platform for all uses. Each one has unique features that set it apart from the others, and the success of all of them for you depend heavily on whether you know people that also use them.

I have been proselytizing Slack for a little over a year now as my favourite communication tool, and it’s an incredibly popular tool for keeping in contact with small to medium pockets of people, because it mimics the way groups actually communicate in the real world. You can centre conversations around topics, or include only subsets of users in a given Slack team, and I think compartmentalizing like that makes communication in Slack really efficient compared to other platforms.

I’m not saying Slack is the objective best communication platform for everybody to keep in touch with everybody else, because it isn’t. But for me, for most of the people I keep in touch with on a very regular basis, I can’t get over its incredible usefulness. Below are just a few of the ways I prefer Slack to many other messaging platforms.

1. You have a personal chat room. You can send messages to a helpful AI powered robot called Slackbot, or just use this chat thread to leave yourself messages or remind yourself of things. I use it all the time to keep track of things, and I find it incredibly useful to have one place I can throw text or ideas or links when I need to.

2. You can share links with people and Slack automatically provides searchable context. In comparison with Facebook Messenger, which will pop up and provide a picture and the title of the link you send, Slack with actually paste in text what is contained in the link, an image for context, and a short description of the page at the end of the link. It’s incredibly useful.

3. Slack can passively let you keep tabs on a conversation without being notified of every message. You can control which chats will be able to notify you and how the notification comes to you, to your phone, to your computer, etc.

4. You can tag people and other conversations in channels. I could let Mike know I needed his attention for something just by mentioning his name, and I could refer to the “cooking” channel in a conversation with my friends if I’d posted a recipe in there.

5. Perhaps the best thing you can do with Slack is integrate other services. You can paste links to a Google Document and it will automatically figure out which document you are referring to, and keep track of all Google Docs that have been posted in one place. You can set it up to forward Tweets from Twitter into a channel to keep tabs on a topic or a Twitter account any group might care about. It’s incredibly versatile and I have about 5-6 different services that all connect with Slack right now.

I love Slack, and I would use it even if nobody else was around, but if you’re in a team or want to stay in touch with a group of people with more than one simple conversation, this is the way to do it. You’ll never derail a whole group of people with an off-topic remark again (or at least it’s a lot easier to avoid). Go try Slack at Slack.com. They have apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and the web!