The future is already here - it’s just not very evenly distributed
The case for working with your hands
Matthew B. Crawford - The NYT
The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass.
The work is sometimes frustrating, but it is never irrational.
Managers learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. Nothing is set in concrete the way it is when you are, for example, pouring concrete.
A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell makes an interesting remark about the value of communication on networks. He notes that, as networks grow, communication time and nuisance costs grow accordingly.
The phone network provides a perfect example of this phenomenon. It quickly became the cheapest and most efficient way to reach people. Once the network was big enough, nuisance grew accordingly. It’s been invaded by salesmen who quickly understood its extraordinary value of the network. These nuisances gave birth to new tools designed to reduce the noise. Caller ID & answering machines have now become essential. Still, we end up answering to salesmen or people we hardly know and don’t want to talk to. Nuisance is filtered but not wiped out.
As Gladwell puts it, the fact that noise persists make us ‘immuned‘ to the phone. In the sense that we learned to mistrust it as a reliable and painless communication network. We do not leave the network but we do not blindly answer calls either.
The same phenomenon has happened to email. Gladwell describes how, in the early 90’s, he was ‘rushing in anticipation’ to his mailbox to check his 4 new daily messages, the care he took to compose elegant and long responses to his 4 ‘very good friends’. With the network growing, email suffered the exact same epidemic than the phone network. Spam, newsletter, group messenging, people writing to you after digging your mail address on the Internet… every inbox eventually became a massive mess.
Email quickly became the cheapest way to get to you, way more cheaper than a phone call. Same cause, same effects. Gladwell, like most people today, has a selective use of email, composes shorter messages, delays response and doesn’t even bother replying to most mails. The mail network replicated the caller ID principle with Spam filters and Priority inboxes but we still end up in the same situation. We’re immune.
I am deeply convinced one of the keys to email immunity can be found in social networks. They are to email what caller ID was to the phone network. Meaning they won’t cure email but they could at least reduce noise to the same level that caller ID did on the phone network.
The question is: how social network today can contribute in restoring trust in the email network? Each social network can be analyzed in this perspective.
Let’s start with the biggest one: Facebook.
Your network on Facebook is defined by people you actively chose. You can also give clearance to all organizations/groups you like. Outsiders can still send you messages withtout being authorized to do so but they’ll end up in a specific mailbox designated ‘Other’ that never sends any notifications to you. As Facebook is quickly reaching a billion users, more and more Spam gets into this ‘Other’ box. Unsurprisingly, the spam you find in the Facebook ‘Other’ box is the same kind you deal with in your classic email ‘see screenshot below).
Facebook today ends up with a new version of the same problem. The rules it applies to incoming messages are too strict and end up creating a new kind of immunity. Phone, sms, and email create an open-immunity issue. You’re too easy to reach. Anyone can get to you by digging up your mail or taking your number from a friend. Noise comes from openness. Facebook creates a close-immunity. Anxiety comes not from the noise and time consumed in treating the unqualified flow of incoming messages. It comes from the fear of not getting a message that should have passed the filter. Here are a few recent examples: mashable, poynter, uxmovement, seoinc …
Facebook has successfully avoided the old immunity trap to fall in a brand new one that it invented. Time and nuisance is more manageable on Facebook because it is still a closed ecosystem. Few people know that they have a Facebook mail address (email@example.com). The ones who do know about it don’t use it to get in touch with people because they know that their messages will end up in the ‘Other’ category and will never be read.
Twitter seems like a more refined network for mail sorting purposes because, as the service tagline states, you ‘follow your interests’. No pressure on this random guy/girl met once at a party but wants to be your friend on Facebook and that you can’t reasonably refuse. No one on Twitter enters your network based on social pressure. It’s not unpolite not to follow back. In other words, a well used and managed Twitter account can be a powerful filter for communication purposes.
Since you follow people because you share the same interest than them, or even better because they are mavens on their specific field and you learn from them, it’s safe to say that, if they deigned to talk to you, you’d be glad to prioritize their messages.
Rules are simple on Twitter: Mentions and Direct Messages clearly separate public from private communications (while Twitter once announced the possibility to DM people not following you, it never actually happened to my knowledge). Mentions allow anyone on the network to talk to you and Direct Messages allow your authorized / carefully selected friends to talk to you in private. Twitter makes a marvelous job at building relationships between people sharing common interests. I have personally made dozens of professional contacts on the network that I would never have met without it. Sounds like a perfect world, doesn’t it?
Bots are regularly spamming my mentions but that’s ok. Not so noisy. So why can’t Twitter solve the email network communication issue?
2 reasons comes to mind:
Direct Messages are almost always relevant but they are still anecdotal compared to email. It would make sense however, considering the value of DMs, to integrate them in the mail flow as priority messages.
NB: we thought about integrating DMs in Sparrow for a long time. We even did mock-ups.
Finally, you have Google + and its Circles. Gmail already integrates Circles in a rather inspired way and let you use them as tags. By selecting a Circle, you only show emails from the people you included there. This is not a bad idea but I honestly spent 30 minutes creating my circles when G+ was first released and didn’t have this use in mind. This turns out to be quite irrelevant when I use it combined with Gmail today.
Created with much care and with Gmail in mind, if you’re ready to spend a few hours sorting your contacts and able to categorize them in a relevant manner, Circles can work. But that’s a lot of assumptions.
The peculiarity of Circles is they do not require any action from the people you include in them. It’s a one way process.
Why G+ doesn’t really work for email? Because all the work is on your side. You have to create and name all circles and sort all your contacts within it. It is a cumbersome process that has been extensively discussed by the blogosphere and Zuckerberg himself. Grouping/sorting is painful.
The magic of Facebook and Path is that you build your network painlessly. Even more magic, you build it with pleasure. Google does not provide a satisfying experience because there is no social element to it. Since it’s not a 2-sided process, it does not generate any reward for users. Being confirmed as a friend on Facebook of followed on Twitter still is a special moment. You couldn’t care less when someone adds you to its Circles. There is no emotion on G+. You’re not building relationship, you’re just re-creating your address book. Circles in Gmail are just a new kind of tag. The only difference is they are created and operate a priori. There are the new email Rules.
Path, the Personal Network which recently re-branded as The Smart Journal in its 2.O version, is part of the answer to this endless network side effect.
Path is the first size-limited network. You’re only allowed to have 150 friends. 150 and that’s it. Why? Because it has been proven by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar that you can’t have substantial and meaningful relationship with more than 150 people at a given time (read: really care about what they say and do). Add to this friend limit the fact that Path managed to create a culture that removes the social ankwardness associated with refusing to be someone’s friend. You end up with a real shot at building a consistent network of people who really matters to you.
Path eliminates the growth issue by limiting your number of friends and manage to push social pressure aside by making you re-create your intimate circle. Your mom or best friend do not want you to be the coolest guy on earth, they want you to be yourself.
No one can communicate with you if you haven’t specifically accepted him/her (vs. Facebook and Twitter which still provides means to do this). Outsiders can only ask to be friend with you (but can’t add any message to the request). This is the minimum openness required for any social network. More importantly, Path makes you build a valuable network in a pleasurable way (vs. G+ where you feel like sorting your rolodex at the end of a bad day).
The network is based on real life relationships, not shared interest, acquaintances or your address book.
Path now holds my best friends and family. These people are top priority to me everywhere. They are the people I answer to when they call, text me and obviously email me. Assuming you use Path with discipline, your Path inbox, if it were to exist, would look like Gladwell 90’s mailbox. It would be the place where you write lengthy messages, answer with no delay and with delight.
It would not solve the nuisance in its entirety but will at least create the first nice and safe place in mailboxes since the 90’s.
So what’s the remedy to immunity?
From a technical point of view, it’s selectiveness. Picking the right message from the right person. Gmail does it with its Priority Inbox. But it misses something huge in the process. The Priority Inbox is cold. It lacks emotion.
Nothing is more powerful than emotion. Bringing back the emotion is the key to restoring trust.
The cure to immunity.