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 HallMonochronic 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.