The Internet in Real Life

In many ways, I think you could say, I live and work in a bubble of the technical future that, as Gibson said "isn't evenly distributed," yet. I have developed a set of tools and work flows that enable me to work nearly anywhere and on a moment's notice. I work for a company which great and open internal infrastructure that allows us to securely communicate and collaborate in whatever way we think will best serve the projects we're working on. And I know enough to be able to automate the boring parts of my technological experience. In all, pretty good.

Here's the thing though: despite all of this technological infrastructure, all this know how and frankly awesome connectivity: all of the tools we use to collaborate technologically: chat rooms, wikis, paste-bins, version control systems, instant messages and email all work better when you're in the same room. Examples:

I was sitting in a talk with a coworker, and we were both logged into an IRC room from our laptops, where we were able to share some useful examples, links, and other commentary without being (very) disruptive. In day to day work, I (and my coworkers) spend a lot of time using chat rooms to communicate and share information with people who are only a few feet away, and in the end we get a lot done.

There are probably a lot of reasons why this is the case: digital relationships are almost always supported by real life relationships, there's a level of hard to document interstitial and context setting that we do in real life that is difficult to efficiently create digitally, but that can be accomplished without second thought *in real life, and so forth. But, having made this realization, I think there are a few conclusions to be drawn about collaboration technology:

  • It helps to centralize information flow. So much collaboration technology is "pull" based, and there's no good way to ensure that people know you've done something that they might consider without pushing information to them in some manner. Even so, create one place where the people you're working with can see what you're working on.

    Use something like an IRC channel, or an xmpp MUC room, combined with a service like notifixious or something similar. In a lot of ways, the incessant emails Facebook sends achieve the same goal.

  • Communities come together to work on something specific and concrete, but inevitably they bond and endure for other reasons and other kinds of conversations. While creating "off topic" silos is awkward, creating the space for people to get to know each other is essential to making people work together well (and thus use collaborative technology better.)

  • Focus most of your attention on "getting things done," and less attention on the "how things are done." There are so many technological solutions, so many options, and so many different contexts that it doesn't really matter how things get done as long as they do get done. The right and preferred tools will arise and present themselves when needed, and as long as things are getting done using the right tool doesn't matter much.

Onward and Upward!

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