Ever since I started IRC, I've noticed that I'm reading much less email, getting a lot less structured work done, but having a much better sense of what's going on in our "space" and able to tie a bunch of pieces together that weren't tied together before. I think some people mistake this type of contextual multi-tasking as some form of ADD. I think I'm switching from M-time to P-time. Edward Hall in Beyond Culture describes the difference between P-time and M-time.

Edward Hall
Monochronic time (M-time) and polychronic time (P-time) represent two variant solutions to the use of both time and space as organizing frames for activities. Space is included because the two systems (time and space) are funtionally interrelated. M-time emphasises schedules, segmentation and promptness. P-time systems are characterized by several things happening at once. [...] Americans overseas are psychologically stressed in many ways when confronted by P-time systems such as those in Latin America and the Middle East. [...] In a different context, the same patterns apply within governmental bureaucracies of Mediterranean countries: A cabinet officer, for instance, may have a large reception area outside his private office. There are almost always small groups waiting in this area, and these groups are visited by government officials, who move around the room conferring with each. Much of their business is transacted in public instead of having a series of private meetings in an inner office. [...] By scheduling, we compartmentalize; this makes it possible to concentrate on one thing at a time, but it also denies us context.
This is the experience I'm having. Blogs and supporting services like technorati and trackbacks make the publishing of blogs more and more like a conversation where one has to respond to blog posts in hours. For me, responding to blog posts directed at me is more important than email. What IRC and Chat have done is accelerated this even more but has added the ability to see the state of my various friends. Sleeping, waking up, in a meeting, on the phone. When I'm excited about something, I can quickly round up folks in IRC or find people who are available to process in real-time, what used to be scheduled and slower. I can talk to people while an idea is still fresh in my mind and jump from brainstorm to brainstorm. Also, this real-time element allows much richer emotional context. Hanging out on IRC exchanging simple state information like waking up and going to bed creates some sort of "we've hung out together" link between the participants. If you're having emotional issues, it's comforting to have the real time exchange of chat vs. the write and wait anxiety of email or blogging. IRC does have its emotionally tense moments, but I think the supportive elements outweight the grief.

Partially as an experiment, I've changed my mode of behavior. I rarely prioritize email. I sit on IRC and chat with my Vonage IP phone next to my computer. I wake up at 2 am. (Partially due to jet lag) I keep one eye on IRC while I go through RSS feeds. I check out new people who drop into IRC. I chat individually with interesting people and phone them as the discussion or the relationship develops. If I think someone would add value to a discussion, I track them down and drag them over to IRC or sometimes I am summoned to IRC (by Jeannie) when they need me there. I find that this P-time method allows me to have a much richer high context thought process involving more people. The problem is, it's hard to then get anything structured done. ;-)

I don't think, however, that this is totally without value as some people may think. I think the trick will be to balance structured time for execution with P-time to create context. IRC has been around a long time, but I am feeling more and more that the combination of IRC and other social software enhances greatly its value and is worth revisiting as a core component of our communication process.

8 Comments

Welcome to the (almost)Matrix Joi!

It started with MUD's, worked its way through the fits and starts of the internet/email/web and is in the Tivo/Accelabloging/AlwaysOn phase.

We have the ability to be connected in an almost 24/7 fashion now. How soon will it be before *not* being always connected is strange? The transhumanist in me feels all warm and fuzzy now.

adam...

For me, the feeling of not being connected is almost always disconcerting, save for an all too rare hike on a favorite section of the Appalachian Trail. I find myself feeling itchy when I cannot connect. My little prototype bot sits in IRC and sends me a text message when it "thinks" something is happening that I might be interested in. It is a way to stay connected to friends on irc as well as maintain a link with my favorite software project while driving, on a conference call, etc.



I spent three months last year in a Zen training center, partially to obtain said training, partially as a method to recover from an illness. I wasn't allowed to use the center's computers and had to wait until our one day and one evening off came so that I could go to the library and log in. It was time well spent and it benefited me no end, but I must say, I never really lost that itch. I can tell you though, that sitting on a cushion for seven hours a day and raking leaves is harder than it looks ;)

Personally, I feel I'll be left behind.

I have had RSI since 1990. Sure I used to "talk" interactively on Unix and VAX with others logged into the same machine.

But now, each of my keystrokes is achieved without use of a keyboard. It's a slow, error-prone process.

So I don't "chat". First, I can't respond quickly in real time, so I can't carry my end of the conversation in a timely fashion. Second, keystrokes are a precious resource for me and I must use them where I need them -- in my work.

I'm worried about the time sink of IRC or the waste dimension of chat rooms in general. I pulled back from the immediacy of electronic communications when I realised that dimension was subordinating all other communications channels. I'm watching with interest as Joi offers his comments because I'm still addicted to IM and IRC and would have them always-on if I could still make my deadlines through all the chatter.

Through middle school and highschool I was highly addicted to IRC and IM and spent much of my nights crusing those mediums. I have noticed the same trends that your talking about, but in reverse. When I was on IRC and IM I rarely used email unless I wanted to send out an important notice or receive said notice. Now that I use IRC less (but IM actually to a greater degree as my chat mechanism) I find I use email to a far greater extent.

I find I am more structured now in what I do but I suffer the same problem I did when I used IRC - just getting started. Switching mediums, organizing, it helps a little but doesn't overcome the fundamental problem of overcoming the fear of failure :)

I think this concisely states my experience as an odd American: from the start, I've been a fan of P-time. I enjoy movies more when I can discuss them on IRC, for instance, and a conference isn't at all cool without an IRC channel to go with.

More on this later - thanks!

As with all things, balance is key.
A free yet graceful dance to well orchestrated music.

I wonder if Cziksentmihalyi's "state of flow" isn't at least partially just such a balance (of P and M time).

Speaking as a long-term IRC (ab?)user, I've learned to switch. If I need full concentration, IRC gets minimised, or goes onto a seperate desktop - as does email, web-browsers, IM clients and MP3 player. If I'm operating in what I think of as normal mode, all of the above are visible, and I mentally switch switch between them rapidly - reading, replying, making notes, blogging, listening to music, installing, writing code snippets to explore ideas, but most of all, thinking. Sometimes, I want stimulation to do what I'm doing (mental, that is), sometimes I want to be sensorially deprived, cut off, in intellectual isolation, focusing everything I have on a particular part of what's happening in my head.

When in 'p-time' mode, I feel like I'm multitasking - I can watch IRC and IM and Email while reading or writing, listening to music. It all combines for me.. possibly it's like my typing - if I think about it too much, I stop being able to do it right...

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29 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Going P-time.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://joi.ito.com/MT-4.35-en/mt-tb.cgi/919

Joi Ito mentioned Vonage IP phones again today, which reminded me that it's something to look into. Check the pricing for calls to the UK - 5 cents per minute. That's cheaper than BT rates for anything other than local calls. Vonage don't seem t Read More

Joi Ito mentioned Vonage IP phones again today, which reminded me that it's something to look into. Check the pricing for calls to the UK - 5 cents per minute. That's cheaper than BT rates for anything other than local calls. Vonage don't seem t Read More

Joi Ito mentioned Vonage IP phones again today, which reminded me that it's something to look into. Check the pricing for calls to the UK - 5 cents per minute. That's cheaper than BT rates for anything other than local calls. Vonage don't seem t Read More

Joi Ito mentioned Vonage IP phones again today, which reminded me that it's something to look into. Check the pricing for calls to the UK - 5 cents per minute. That's cheaper than BT rates for anything other than local calls. Vonage don't seem t Read More

Joi Ito mentioned Vonage IP phones again today, which reminded me that it's something to look into. Check the pricing for calls to the UK - 5 cents per minute. That's cheaper than BT rates for anything other than local calls. Vonage don't seem t Read More

Joi just put into words something I've been thinking about for at least a good month now without really knowing... Read More

Context from Grant Henninger
August 7, 2003 4:03 AM

Recently, Joi made a post talking about P-Time. What he says is that, through IRC and other forms of chat, he is getting a lot less structured work done, but also he is getting more context for what he is... Read More

Context from Grant Henninger
August 7, 2003 4:05 AM

Recently, Joi made a post talking about P-Time. What he says is that, through IRC and other forms of chat, he is getting a lot less structured work done, but also he is getting more context for what he is... Read More

Context from Grant Henninger
August 7, 2003 4:28 AM

Recently, Joi made a post talking about P-Time. What he says is that, through IRC and other forms of chat, he is getting a lot less structured work done, but also he is getting more context for what he is... Read More

Joi's talking about going polychronic, as defined by Edward Hall: Monochronic time (M-time) and polychronic time (P-time) represent two variant solutions to the use of both time and space as organizing frames for activities. Space is included because t... Read More

Aus dem Leben gemailtViele Menschen, die im Мultitasking〓Modus immer mehrere T舩igkeiten gleichzeitig erledigen wollen, halten sich dabei f〓besonders produktiv. Erste Untersuchungen legen nahe, dass das ein Trugschluss ist. Der Psychologe David ... Read More

Going P-time from jim moran's weblog
December 25, 2003 2:58 PM

Going P-time sounds a little like the personal multi-tasking we were doing during the post 911 disaster recovery projects. Between multiple email systems, blackberries, cell phones, and radios we were all mobile information flow centers. It was the onl... Read More

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