Confessions are usually complicated.
How many messages clamor for your attention each day? Overload is real.
We constantly flip through the jungle of unread emails, texts, and tweets. More keep flooding in.
The feeling of responsibility is warranted. Messages have real impact and we all feel stretched thin.
Consider this story about messages gone wrong.
A close contact arrived to a business dinner that had been cancelled by email at the last minute. Countless hours were wasted by other confused attendees that also showed up. Inquiring minds wonder who is to blame. The person who sent the email? The attendees who did not receive it? Someone else? The answer is unclear.
How did we get here?
Messages used to be simple. It was phones and papers. We actually connected. Since then, the ways that we communicate are totally different.
An enormous reconfiguration of messaging platforms, tools, channels, and apps that we use is happening beneath the surface.
Several factors make it feel like the rug is literally being pulled out from underneath.
First, the landscape is constantly shifting.
This is a digital earthquake. It’s difficult to understate the disorder.
Everyday new messaging tools come and go. Check any app store.
Facebook has Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp (at minimum, for now). Google is reducing seven messaging apps to “only” five. The LinkedIn confession doesn’t even mention Twitter, Telegram, Signal, or Snapchat.
Messaging about to-dos (Asana, Trello, Wunderlist…) and documents (Microsoft Office, Google Drive, Evernote,…) is even blurrier.
This messaging landscape is totally hodgepodge.
Second, we have limited control.
If you work for any company, then there are mandatory tools like Outlook, G Suite, Skype, or Slack. Events appear on our calendars from WebEx, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Uberconference.
Our control is limited even outside of work.
We get invitations to communicate on dozens of apps. Other people can send unsolicited SMS, WhatsApp, iMessage, or call to your number. How many robocalls do you get?
Uber, Upwork, AirBnB, and other platform services use their own messages.
Good luck with a unified inbox. Even social media and telecom leaders are clueless about how to tame the messaging zoo:
We have very limited control over our messaging tools.
Third, the big picture is exhausting.
The natural reaction to disorder is to consolidate. Aren’t there already enough inbox aggregators?
Even the biggest players can barely impact market segments. Slack presents itself as the “collaboration hub for work” even though it’s the first example in the LinkedIn confession.
Try searching the app store for “friendly” so see how many other apps claim to be the ultimate solution to messaging chaos.
Approaching messaging from a “boil the ocean” perspective makes the problem worse.
Providers of messaging tools have no incentive to help. Messages that leak outside their platforms give power to competitors.
Trying harder doesn’t work either. Advice to “check Facebook 3x per day for 20 minutes” or “we should be using [insert name] app” sound cute in an annoyingly nerdy way. But, who can do that consistently?
Complexity is accelerating at a frustrating pace for everyone except digital trendsetters.
What can we do?
Messaging is confusing and overwhelming at the moment. Despite guilty feelings about messages that slip through, the underlying foundations are extremely unstable.
While there is no clear solution in the market right now, awareness helps to mitigate the problem.
Avoid the urge to blame yourself for messages that go wrong by keeping the bigger picture in perspective. Do your best, and don’t sweat the rest.