Can I Recover My Asynchronous Practice?

Calm, asynchronous communication isn’t the norm. It’s going to take a major shift in thinking to recognize that focus and balance are vital assets that companies need to protect in order to be successful.

Source: My Company Tried Slack For Two Years. This Is Why We Quit.

Quite a while back this quote floated by my eyes and I grabbed it for “blogging later.” Beyond the reference to the use of Slack, I’m deeply interested in asynchronous text communication. That “grab” was early July. It is now September. The irony does not escape me…

Still, I was drawn back to this draft after participating in a Facebook thread with Bryan Alexander. Bryan is always asking thoughtful questions, rather than throwing out statements, as so many of us do on Facebook. As the conversation asynchronously continued, Bryan asked what would get me back participating in the conversations he hosted on Facebook. My honest reply was I needed someone to get all my family work done for me!

Time and fractured attention practices have made my less willing and capable of meaningfully participating in asynchronous conversations online. It used to be a central part of my practice and learning. I was a passionate advocate for asynchronous online conversation. I LOVED it! I shocked myself, because I believe in the power of asynch.

Family obligations aside, I relate to Katie Hafner’s description of “squirrel-chasing-dog.” I’ve lost the motivation to focus deeply on any online thread. I bookmark. I take a note to “come back.” I don’t. I used to have laser focus and could read long threads, synthesize, respond with questions or comments, nurture the engagement of others. I’m currently designing a new online course for a fabulous refugee educator initiatives on supporting distributed communities of practice and I’m asking myself, what modality is best for the participants and me. I used to position asynchronous threads front and center.

Is this just me getting old? As an adviser for Trusted Sharing, a platform and practices for asynchronous or “flex time” interaction, I should (STILL!!) have this down pat. I’ve lost it. How about you?

My question is this:  is calm, asynchronous conversation valuable to you? Is it worth the (re)focus? If yes, what are your practices to do this well in a time of fractured attention. (Personally, I think there is something important about “doing less” and creating space for focus, but I struggle to practice this!)  What is your current stance and practice in asynchronous conversation?

12 thoughts on “Can I Recover My Asynchronous Practice?”

  1. Such a good topic! A few things I’ve noticed:
    1) Discussions seem to be time based rather than topic based. You can so easily miss the opportunity to contribute.
    2) Very few tools support good asynchronous dialogue.
    3) Discussion spaces aren’t neutral; it’s like they’re “owned” by the person who initiates them
    4) There’s a trend to respond to individuals, not groups. Inclusive dialogue isn’t something most people think about.
    5) I feel like we’re losing the art of asynchronous facilitation. Nancy, YOU think to nurture the engagement of others, even if you find you’re not doing it. Not everyone thinks this way!

    1. Sylvia, you are SO practical. Your comments remind me of the usefulness of distinguishing between the art/practice of online asynchronous conversations, and my (lack of) motivation or attention to that practice!

  2. Some questions for your questioning:

    What is asynchronous conversation? Much conversation is traditional dialogue between 2 or a very few people. Voice is synchronous while writing in almost all forms is asynchronous. Digital makes it richer. Is that better or worse?

    What is the ideal space for focus? This might vary for introverts & extroverts.

    1. Hi Tony! Thanks for reminding me to decipher my terminology. In this instance, asynchronous conversation is text based conversation that unfolds over time, with people rarely (but sometimes) posting in (near) real time. The groups size can be 2+ but the nature of the conversation changes with increasing group size. For me, dialogue is a focused and intentional form of conversation.

      Now, as to if/how digital makes the conversation richer – my experience tells me that for some people the answer is yes, and for others, vehemently no. The art/practice can moderate that negative response a bit, but it doesn’t seem to resolve it. I suspect there are many layers underneath that!

      As for focus – I can only speak for myself. I have to really discipline myself, remove distractions, stop wasting time on trivial stuff and really engage with intention and attention. The online container of the conversation has some influence, but the key for me, STARTS with me.

      Tell me more about your experience of the digital being richer please?

  3. As I enter my 73rd year of life I am working to do less and get more – of what I want to do – done. I do not have the desire to try to handle many threads. I do so appreciate the digital networks and systems. Nonetheless, I am removing myself from activities, discussion lists, and social media services that I do not use (even though I see the usefulness). Regarding asynchronous communication I feel an urge to start sending postal mail – whether or not that happens is an empirical question. I like those kinds of questions; or so I say.

    1. Bill, lovely to “see” you here. I’ll email you my snail mail! 🙂

      I do wonder how much of this has to do with phase of life…

  4. Dave’s post brought me here. One aspect I think about is the possible early indications of a “conceptual revolution” of the type Calhoun spoke about in his Frontiers of Science Lecture III presented December 30, 1968, at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at Dallas, Texas. A conceptual revolution corresponds to a time when the human population quadruples and conceptual space doubles. The human ability to mentally inhabit conceptual space allowed escaping the biological population bounds imposed by crowding in physical space. Describing such revolutions in his paper in the journal Ekistics in 1970, Calhoun wrote: “Each involves a complete reorientation in the manner in which life and the forces of nature are perceived. Each also involves elaboration of a new strategy for coping with this life and these forces.”

    I list the seven conceptual revolutions in Calhoun’s theory with excerpts from his description of the future revolutions (from the 1968-1970 reference point):

    1. The Traditional-Sapient Revolution of about 38,710 B.C.

    2. The Living-Agricultural Revolution of about 8,157 B.C.

    3. The Authoritarian-Religious Revolution of about 519 A.D.

    4. The Holistic-Artistic Revolution of about 1391 A.D.

    5. The Scientific-Exploitive Revolution of about 1868 A.D.

    [to be continued]

  5. [continuation]

    6. The Communication-Electronic Revolution of about 1988 A.D.

    “Personal contact among the members of the much enlarged communication network became ineffective. Furthermore, processing information necessary to formulate concepts taxed cortical capacity. Such limitations forced the new pespective of life as an information exchange network and led to the development of theories and electronic technologies for the transfer and condensing of information as the means for enhanced coping.”

    7. The Compassionate-Systems Revolution of 2018 A.D.

    “Use of the term ‘systems’ to designate the new means for coping also reflects the new perspective. As an outgrowth of information theory relating to the transfer of information over networks, in conjunction with the related development of the field of cybernetics, there arose a body of concepts designated as ‘general systems theory’. This theory views all of nature and all of human activity as a hierarchically arranged structure of levels of interlocked subset systems in which the process of any particular subset system affects and is affected by other subset systems at its own level, as well as below or above it. We are now moving into an era when this perspective (involving the related techniques and strategies for designing and guiding interrelationships, and for permitting self-organization of subsystems) has become imperative. Selection of the term ‘compassionate’ to designate the perspective of this revolution requires comment.

    [to be continued]

  6. [continuation]

    “Roles requisite to the adequate functioning of subset systems will continue to increase in both kind and number. Fulfilling each role requires maximizing the particular set of values requisite to its expression. And yet no one role can be fulfilled unless all the other roles are being adequately met. This means that the diversity of values guiding action will increase. Furthermore, the present era of radical change will become intensified as the character of roles needed to meet new functions also changes. Thus, in the presence of this increased exposure to value conflict, there will be required an augmented awareness of the necessity for others to maintain value sets differing from one’s own. Furthermore, realizing one’s own functional role requires expenditure of considerable effort in assisting other’s to fulfill the objectives of their value sets. It is this awareness of, and participation in, the realization of values held by others which characterizes the compassionate perspective.”

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