Friday, April 16, 2021

"The more conversations machines produce for us, the harder it will become to say something non algorithmic"

From Real Life Magazine:

Hello Goodbye

When I go back home, I’m often taken aback by how people in the street just … talk to each other. The point of these casual conversations is not informational or operational — if you wanted, you could easily extract more reliable factual knowledge from the internet with a phone. They aren’t meant to be productive or facilitating, either. These conversations aren’t about anything, and that is their point. They aren’t governed by signal-to-noise ratios. These exchanges are only social — they make sense only as a way of treating the other as a person rather than as a source of information.

This makes a striking contrast with the sort of functionalized, machinic communication that is often demanded in workplaces. From a management standpoint, knowledge workers (who might be responsible for synthesizing the content of meetings, summarizing brand impressions on Twitter, reporting the weekly progress by different teams, and so on) would ideally communicate as computers do, with unambiguous ones and zeroes. Messages would have a single, clear “signal” meaning that would be the same in any context, among any co-workers, and the social component of communication — anything that seems to exceed a strict functional purpose — would be understood as only so much “noise.” The best workers would be processors who can effectively extract information from one source and encode it into the text of an email or slide deck with no superfluities, wasting none of the receivers’ time on anything that doesn’t directly and explicitly serve a business purpose.

To try to minimize noise and maximize speed along those lines, some workplaces have sought to impose narrower communication channels. Some of this is a matter of business-school lessons in professional communication that become codified as workplace norms: Send a follow-up email with exactly one anecdote from the initial conversation (more only if you’re angling for a big favor), then the specific ask, followed by a cheerful sign-off. But the narrowing can also be implemented technologically: Gmail, for example, suggests phrases (especially for openings and signoffs) that standardize and simplify this aspect of “writing,” providing options that are pre-certified as “average” or appropriate. One can imagine the niceties of business communication becoming so rote and automated as to become completely superfluous, vestigial: Economically precarious millennial professionals optimized for efficient workplace exchange would become frustrated trying to respond to older colleagues’ emails, where the relevant information is interspersed with human irrelevancies, like saying “hello” and “goodbye.”....