Monday, 17 May 2010

The New Busy

On my way to work this morning I saw the new Hotmail ad campaign: "Because the new busy is not the old busy". Indeed. Microsoft is getting busy making a play for cloud email. Look out gMail.

It got me thinking though. I'm old enough to have started work before email, internet and mobiles. I remember getting a fax machine for the first time. I'd ring someone up in the US and say "I'm faxing it right now!" and they'd say "It's coming through!!" It felt like a miracle. Most of what we did was face to face or on the phone and by post. I remember lots of cab and bike bills.

Now electronic communication has, of course, supplanted all that. Our phone at Armadillo rings probably twice a day. One of those is normally a wrong number. I get maybe a letter a day.

What's happened is latency has been removed from the system.

"I phoned but you were out", "The cheque's in the post" and "He's out at a meeting - I'll get him to call you when he's back" are all phrases we don't hear any more.

If I don't get a response from a mail or voicemail in a matter of hours, I'm surprised. Often it's minutes. There are many effects of this I think, but here are two.

The first is that we're being hunted down all the time. "Ping" goes our mail client ("I'm after you"). "Ping" (So am I!"). Ping. Ping. Feeling important is OK (not too important though), but feeling pursued is not OK.

Fred Wilson, a well-known New York VC wrote about his working vacations:
"I block out 90 minutes in the morning when my family is asleep for emails and phone calls"
"I keep my blackberry with me but try to keep it off unless we have some down time like waiting for a tour to begin"
"I also find time to do stuff, like post on the eliptical trainer"

The second is that latency brought time to reflect. A response was considered, measured and then dispensed. There has been a lot written about the dangers of hastily-written emails, but some people I deal with are ploughing through so much communication, that there's just not a lot of thinking going on at all.

So, whilst I wouldn't want to go back to the old busy, we must surely shape our new busy, lest it shape us.

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