I was at a meetup once where the presenter mentioned posting something to his facebook and being upset that his grandmother had not yet seen it a day or two later. This actually quite surprised me. Was he expecting that there was a waiting audience for anything he said. Recently the corporate chat app Slack is seemingly all over the news, stories about how it is changing communications and the endless benefits for all. What do these have in common? They are both about ‘demand attention’, the expectation and belief that someone wants or needs to listen on your schedule and not theirs.
What does ‘demand attention’ really mean? It means that you need an actively watching audience to see your messages before they are lost in time. This is different than the more usual communications understood in letters, email, voicemail and even sms. All of those forms allow the audience to fit their attention when they want. Their use over the even earlier demands of in person or voice conversations shows the need of controlling personal attention.
Television too is struggling with demand attention. Increased availability of whenever, wherever unscheduled content has been lowering audience numbers for years. To counter this they are taking the same path I believe Slack and other tools are on, making everything about being real-time to force audience attention. In other words, if you don’t see it now there is little point in seeing it later. In Television they use the term ‘eventize’ which means creating broadcasts that are multi-touch and must be experienced as a group to be worthwhile.
It is interesting that we are all vying for each others attention and searching for ways to get louder and offer a more public show (open offices anyone?) while simultaneously searching for ways to limit the effects on ourselves. Does being bombarded with requests heighten our own fears of being invisible and unheard over the noise. Has the Youtube slogan ‘Broadcast Yourself’ finally taken on all the meanings of broadcast including a silent complacent audience waiting patiently on the couch.
In the new corporate communications tools like Slack I feel a similar expectation. Any long time user of IRC (a similar style of chat) will tell you that in any moderately busy channel presence is nearly mandatory lest you be left in the dust. As you might expect having multiple intermixed threads of conversation flow by constantly is like trying to work in a coffee shop where you can perfectly (and must) hear all the conversations. This quickly becomes draining but also inefficient. Most jobs require full attention and being forced to split it because of the demands of the speaker seems to miss the point of electronic tools.
What do you think? When I post this should I have an expectation that you are all waiting to jump on new content (I don’t) or should I set it free and see if the idea carries itself? When you want, let me know on twitter @jeffhorton