The future belongs to the messaging-fluent (but not to me)

This, on Slack, from a millennial colleague I’ll call Brian:

“Hey, Alan, I was wondering if you’d had a chance to make a decision on what to do about Sarah?”

Which Sarah? What decision? Did I say I’d get back you with a decision by now, or did it just cross your mind? Is this critical right now, important today, or something I should try to answer sometime this week? I need more context!

To answer Brian’s question I’ll have to either ask for more context or go searching for more context myself, checking email, Slack, text, and recent document changes, which could take quite a while. That was not how I was planning to spend the next 10 minutes.

It makes me resentful. My instinctive reaction is to be angry at Brian for being thoughtless and not giving me the context I need.

But I’ll consider doing it anyway, because although I don’t think Brian will say anything about it, I think he’ll be offended that I don’t remember the context of his question.

Brian, like an increasing number of the professionals in the workplace, has never worked in a world without online messaging. And I don’t think he’d understand how or why it bugs me when he asks me questions without context, or restarts a conversation we last had days before as if the pause never happened. And I think all that is related.

If you’re a millennial, for all your life, you’ve maintained more relationships in online messaging systems than IRL (in real life). Whereas for my generation, messaging is a quick hack for when we can’t be in the same room together, for his generation, messaging is the default and preferred way to manage a relationship.

All that messaging activity, all those relationships grown and maintained on messaging platforms? It has to be affecting the way the social and communication recall centres of the brain have developed in this generation.

My generation? (I just kinda squeeze into Generation X… I tell myself I’m young for my age… aka immature!) Not so much. My brain still retains some neuroplasticity but I remember episodes of Seinfeld and The Simpsons dialogue better than who Sarah is and why I need to make a decision about her.

You know those people who suffer from ‘facial blindness’ or have suffered a brain injury and can’t remember what happened yesterday? Well, for Brian, interacting with me must feel like that.

When I can’t remember which Sarah or what the decision was, it feels to Brian like I either don’t care about working with him, don’t care about the decision and Sarah, or that I’ve got some weird disability that prevents me from recalling what we last talked about. Every damn time he has to work with me on something.

That’s got to be frustrating for him. I don’t think it matters whether he knows that it’s frustrating for me too. Because this is his generation’s world now. Everybody born in a century beginning with “19..” is an adult now and the eldest of those born in the first decade of the 2000s are learning to drive, studying and gaining employment.

The world belongs to the messaging-fluent, and I will at best forever be a messaging-wannabe. Frustrated and grumpy and asking dumb questions so I can try and keep up with my younger colleagues. Oh yay.

This story inspired by a conversation with fellow old man and best friend Tony Burrett. Thanks mate!

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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