I received a very important message on my phone the other day which may or may not have been related to the election. A notification signalling its arrival popped up on the lock screen when I picked up the phone in the morning.
But after half an hour of searching I still couldn’t find the message. It could’ve arrived using any of my numerous apps: iMessage, SMS, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Skype or plain old e-mail.
To add to the general confusion, most of the messaging apps on my phone use the same green icon, making it harder to differentiate between them.
I used to despair at the volume of e-mails I receive every day (there are 6,218 unread e-mails on my phone alone) but now I am drowning under the deluge of messages — worse are the notifications from these apps — my phone and laptop spew out every day.
Every new messaging service comes with a painful codicil, you have to check it.
I’m a big fan of all of these services — they all have their own advantages or unique selling points — but I’m tired of being on a never-ending treadmill to check and read everything.
Years ago I wrote a column using that immortal line "not waving but drowning" to describe the sensation of information overload. This was from just e-mail alone.
My day starts and ends with a review of the messages that have come in, and a quick assessment of what needs an immediate response, and what can wait until later in the day when I start that process over again.
Somewhere in between, I try to work. I often wonder what "work" actually is. Is it writing, which is what a journalist is supposed to do? Researching, reading, data gathering? Is it running my small media business? Or is it networking with customers, advertisers and suppliers?
Or is it — and this is what it seems to me — mostly just beating my inbox down (and never quite succeeding)?
So much of the way the world works happens via e-mail, especially when you’re dealing with external parties, so that communication method still has primacy.
Slack, that remarkable co-ordinating app which is a darling of the tech start-up world, is rightly seen as a new way of working. I’ve used it very successfully on various projects. But it’s just yet another messaging service to monitor.
I habitually turn off notifications for apps on my phone, to cut down on the already unsustainable noise-to-signal ratio from the messaging services alone; though I allow high-level notifications from news apps like The Guardian, The New York Times and CNN. I am a news junkie, after all.
I’ve been using WeChat — which is superior to WhatsApp in numerous ways. WeChat had voice and video calling long before WhatsApp, allows you to "pin" important chats to the top of the screen (so useful), lets you send files via its desktop app and has that very useful Wallet — which uses SnapScan to make a purchase (and even gives you a rebate).
WhatsApp is increasingly popular for group messaging — it has 1bn users worldwide — but the fact that anyone can add you to a group without your permission is a problem. When everyone sends a "thank you" to these sprawling, mostly personal, groups, it’s the instant equivalent of "Reply All" on e-mail.
It serves no purpose and just clogs your inbox, as it were. I tend to feel like a kind of emoji Grinch, mostly as a result of these groups where people seemingly have the time to add lines and lines of tiny, indiscernible icons that all look like the "tears of joy" emoji.
Messaging, far from making our lives easier, is now a never-ending treadmill. And it’s only going to get worse. We haven’t even started with the chatbot evolution of messaging yet ...
I eventually found the important message that came in the other day. It was a direct message via Instagram. Sigh.