Modern Communications Generate Too Many Interruptions

Before email, instant messaging, and other modern Internet-based communications, most of us worked in ways that allowed us to focus on tasks. When we wanted to get someone involved in a task, we thought twice before simply barging in and disrupting them by asking them to shift gears.

That was done, fundamentally, because efficiency suffers when one is interrupted. Plus, many people get frustrated by constant interruptions.

The situation today is that we fire off an email request when the thought comes to us. That's right, and natural. It doesn't necessarily mean that recipients are constantly interrupted. You can turn off the cute sound or only explicitly check for new mail at sensible points in the working day.

However, as a practical matter, most people do allow new mail to constantly interrupt them. The situation is even worse with instant messaging -- it's even more intrusive.

These electronic communications methods are wonderful. But somehow, we have to find ways of being less disruptive and more considerate of others while using these technologies. We haven't worked out how to do this yet. We're all grappling with the problem. It's part of what people call "email overload."

... David Ferris

One Comment

  1. Posted April 4, 2006 at 1:22 AM | Permalink

    Bang on! However, a little bit of self-discipline will go a long way — with email it is the recipient who chooses whether to be interrupted or not. It is our own lack of self-discipline that causes email to be disruptive.

    That said, most people want an easier way out than self-discipline, which is fuelling development of software to help people use email more productively.

  2. Posted April 5, 2006 at 8:19 AM | Permalink

    Sounds like you’ve been interrupted once too often David?

    I recently heard someone suggest an online ‘aware address book’ as a solution to this sort of problem. The concept is that your address details in the sender’s address book are constantly updated to let senders know about your status. You can set your status to be anything from “don’t email me now, I’m busy and it’ll be filtered – do it later if you want to be noticed” to “I’m bored, send me an IM”.

    I expect some naff Web 2.0 outfit will come up with something similar pretty soon.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. To comment, first join our community.