Slack

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New York magazine asks with dismay, what has Slack done to the office? and notes that the messaging app "has essentially ushered employer-sanctioned social media into the workplace:"

Like Facebook or Twitter, Slack induces the same anxious, attention-hungry rhythm in its users, the same need to endlessly refresh, and gives off the same illusion of intimacy in an ultimately public space. It also makes the line between work and not-work blurrier than ever -- the constant scroll of maybe-relevant chatter in your chosen Slack channels registers at times like the background noise of any other newsfeed.

Bloomberg asserts that you're about to hate Slack as much as you hate email, and Giles Turnbull notes in https://gilest.org/slack-and-email.html his piece on Slack and email that "Right now, I am a member of 7 different Slack teams [with] A total of 194 channels:"

Of course I don't keep track of all of them, and subscribe to only a fraction - 27 channels across all 7 teams. And I only keep a close eye on 16 of those. But: that's 16 channels that I feel compelled to read. Even if I've not been mentioned, even if none of my highlight words have cropped up anywhere. It's quite likely that something could be said in one of those channels that I will find interesting or useful - but equally likely that I won't be mentioned by name when that happens, because why on earth would anyone do that?

He continues by observing that "my experience of multiple Slack teams and channels is that it's no less overwhelming than an inbox full of email:"

The two experiences - one of opening email and seeing a list of messages, and the other of opening Slack and seeing a list of unread channels - are exactly the same.

What's more, the old criticism of email - that it's a todo list other people have control of - still applies inside Slack. People are still sending me things to do inside it. They're just typing those messages into a different box.

"Slack (or any other chat-based interface) can be just as much work as email ever was," he points out, "and consequently doesn't feel as liberating as some people would argue it is:"

I don't have any answers, and I'm not going to stop using Slack or email. Both are useful. I just wanted make the point: for me, using Slack might have fractionally lessened the amount of email I have to read, but it hasn't lessened the amount of text-on-screens that I have to read. If anything, that's increased. So it doesn't feel like a problem has been solved - it's just moved to a different app.

"The Slack sell to employers," the piece continues, "is that it decreases the burden of email, because nobody likes email:"

GIFS and emoji are the incentive for employees to use Slack; greater oversight is the incentive for employers to tolerate GIFS and emoji. A company-operated social network might not be something most of us would seek out -- but years of experience have primed us to accept a certain loss of privacy as the price paid for online entertainment or, in this case, entertaining work.

"Slack came into my life in 2014," notes the author, observing that the app "made us spend more time chatting than we ever had before:"

Slack's own employees reportedly adhere to the principle "Work hard, then go home." They have nonetheless created a product that encourages the opposite: "Work half-distractedly, then keep doing that no matter where you go." Slack has made work, like the rest of the internet, a passive addiction.

I am less concerned with potential privacy issues that with the tendency of Slack to become "a compulsion, a distraction. A burden." The author of last year's Atlantic piece on the Slack backlash observes, for example, that "Slack has been transformative for the way I work," although "Slack is not for everyone:"

Some people dislike the platform because it's conceptually like an old-school IRC without being an open protocol. Others have complained that Slack isn't actually an email-killer, as so many have claimed, but just another thing to keep up with on top of email. (The Slack detox, [see the Verge piece below] in the grand tradition of people's fraught relationships with the digital tools they use most, is officially A Thing.)

PC Magazine suggests that its audience should read this before ditching email for Slack, and points out that "Slack is free until you hit 10,000 messages and five supported tools. After that, it costs $8 per month per user (or $6.67 when paid annually." At nearly $100/user/year, Slack is pricey compared to other chat apps--although they're not as trendy, which counts for a lot in some executive technology-selection circles. Justin Glow, a senior director at Vox Media, wrote at Verge in 2015 about the week he tried to unplug from Slack. "Originally," he writes, "I didn't feel distracted by Slack at all:"

On my phone in particular, I felt the opposite -- like I was benefiting myself and the company by finding small windows of time in strange places to be productive at work. Over the last few months, however, I've found myself impulsively and habitually checking it to catch up on channel activity the same way I used to open Twitter when in line at the grocery store, or any other time I spent in between more meaningful activities. I started to question if I was actually being productive, or if this was just another way to fill a void with information that didn't really matter.

I craved a reset. How critical was Slack to my ability to do my job? Could I still be a productive employee without it? Was the massive amount of time I spent lurking and interacting with fellow co-workers increasing my productivity, or hurting it?

"I was determined to quit using Slack entirely for a full week," he writes, but "Quitting cold turkey, even for a small amount of time, was out of the question." His use of addiction lingo seems warranted, as in this observation: "With the app closed for half of my first day, I had a renewed sense of focus and attacked my to-do list, but my mind was preoccupied with what I was missing in Slack:"

I quickly discovered not being available on Slack gives the impression you're not actually at work and getting things done. During my experiment, it took way too long not to feel self-conscious during the hours I spent with Slack closed -- like this time didn't count, or I might as well have been at the bar -- even though it was some of my most productive in months.

As he concludes, "I will continue to use my own approach to balancing the need to regularly interact and be available on Slack while staying productive and happy in and out of work."

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 26, 2017 2:47 PM.

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