Do other people have conversations with their managers about how to have healthier relationships with tools like Slack, or is it just me? It can’t just be me. I’ve been thinking for a while about what frustrates me most about Slack and similar systems, and after more than a year of full-time use, I have some thoughts.
First, you are locked in to their client. Why can’t I use Pidgin or irssi, without jumping through hoops – and even then half the features don’t work.
There’s the oft-complained about @here and @channel, for which you can only turn off notifications per-channel. Usually people forget, and in large public channels you see a flurry of departures after someone uses one of those wide-distribution aliases for the first time.
Naked pings or just saying hello are disruptive as well. Then, there’s behavior like looping others into threads that are hundreds of messages long, with a simple “cc” or “FYI”. I’m calling those “naked FYI’s.”
But those are just individual annoyances: there’s something more sinister about the premise of the entire product – maybe intentional or not – that is harmful to individuals. One of the design decisions of Slack is that your user is always just there – waiting to get a message, or magicked into a new channel with a simple ping. You can never just not be there.
Did you ever use AOL Instant Messenger? Offline messages were not possible for many years. You’d long to hear the sound of a favorite person signed on and was open to get messages. Not with Slack.
Have a co-worker in a different time zone? You can send a message at 3:00 a.m.. She can have her status as away, or do not disturb, but her digital presence is still there. Slack helpfully sends her an e-mail with just a snippet of the conversation – just enough to get their attention. Maybe she sees it on her phone while eating breakfast, and Slack helpfully refers her to install their app.
Yes, the mobile access is convenient. I can take off to a doctor’s appointment and still talk to a coworker about an on-going issue. That’s not the only time I use it, though. I open it before bed. I have a look at dinner. In this day and age, we are used to instant gratification, we like to get it ourselves so we want to give it back, too.
Not to mention the fear of missing out. You’re on holiday? What important discussions are you missing on Slack while you’re sitting on the beach? Well, thankfully you can just pop in for a second to check it out since you have the mobile app! If you forget to check the app on vacation, the notification bubble will be there when you get back, as well as all the Slack e-mails urgently telling you all the stuff you missed.
People have a responsibility to use tools appropriately, and manage their work-life balance, but at a certain point the evidence is so overwhelming the system is designed to be used irresponsibly that you just need to reconsider it’s use.
People complain about IRC – clunky CLI clients and it’s ephemeral nature, but the latter is a part of why it’s such a right-sized tool. It’s temporary nature drives longer form discussions to different places. Fear of missing out is diminished when there’s not an expectation to read back history. The lack of threads encourages summaries when reaching out to include someone else in a discussion.
The problem, of course, is that Slack is here to stay. What do you all do to have a healthier relationship with it?