This post is about communication. Synchronous versus asynchronous.
Asynchronous is a lovely word. (I may be alone in thinking this.) It fills the mouth when I say it. Sounds a wee little bit naughty. Ay-SIN-crow-nuss. It’s a word that looks like it wants to be turned over and have its meaning thoroughly investigated, but also one that might claw me up if you try to rub its belly.
BUT I DIGRESS.
Here’s the thing. I loathe synchronous communication with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. It spikes my heart rate, clutters my forebrain, agitates the muddy bottom of my brain, and generally renders me useless for quiet thought for a long time afterwards.
And unfortunately for me, modern life is one, big, perpetual synchronous party.
Want some definitions? At its simplest, asynchronous communication is reaching out to someone else with zero expectation of immediate response. Some examples:
- Snail mail aka the old-fashioned postal letter
- Voicemail on a landline phone answering machine
- Email (in theory, anyway.)
And now, some channels commonly used for synchronous communicating (listed in order of increasing stress for me…)
- Text messages to a mobile phone
- Twitter & Twitter DMs
- Voicemail to a mobile phone
- Voice calls
- Facebook & FB Messenger
All these channels can be used to communicate asynchronously, and some–texts and voicemail, in particular–are specifically designed to be asynchronous. But in practice, they encourage and reward immediate response in not-so-ignorable ways.
And that critically damages my calm.
Partly it’s my crow-like personality.
App badges, little dots next to names, screen banners, counters, blinking lights…I cannot ignore their existence. THEY SHINY MUST CLICK. Peckpeckpeckpeckpeck. Gotta have ’em all.
Every notification system I can turn off, is turned off. My mobile phone runs in silent mode 24/7, so I get no calls except from a select few unless I am expecting a critical, time-dependent call. I turn off every social media alert the platforms allow.
Several factors continue to work against me.
First, possibilities distract me as much as the reality.
If there might be a message or comment or reaction out there, the possibility pulls me away from doing other things to check for a response over and over and over…and then I end up media surfing for hours for the serotonin kick of watching new content scroll past and seeing new notifications appear.
Some people can set aside communications for a certain number of hours per day or minutes per hour, or to certain times of day. For me, that’s pointless. Yes, social media platforms are designed to take advantage of my look-shiny-must-click impulse, but blocking it simply creates a different distraction. The infinite maybe is equally exhausting. (Twitter is the least problematic forum for me, possibly because it also allows/encourages/supports asymmetric relationships.)
Second, knowing I COULD respond jumps up and down on my guilt and shame buttons and becomes SHOULD. And it makes me expect the same immediacy from everyone else in the world, which truly isn’t fair and increases everyone’s stress.
Yes, up at the floaty rational top of my brain, I know most people tagging, posting, commenting, texting, or even calling do NOT expect an immediate or timely response. And I know everyone misses things, just like I do. No one cares that much about my input. Everyone else has busy lives and problems too.
Seriously. I do know these things.
Yet my conscience still tells me I am horrible if I ignore texts or emails or posts in my timeline. When I fail to reply to a comment, text or message, deep down, I feel mean and selfish. And that leads to feeling lost and sad when no one responds to things I post or send. And since new material is always coming in, the emotional maintenance cost on this guilt load gets huge. Talk about a distraction.
So here’s the meaty part: I’m officially adopting an asynchronous lifestyle.
Professionally this is a dicey move, but my outsize need for Quiet Mindful Time simply does not play well with the idea of 24/7 immediate access and interaction. It’s clear that as long as I accept the modern idea that availability is necessity, I am SUNK. So I plan to get comfortable with having a reputation as “quiet and hard to reach.”
In practice I’ve been half-assing this strategy for a long time, but it’s only worked in fits & spurts because it was grounded in avoiding temptation, rather than actively rejecting the availability premise.
This isn’t about limiting my online presence as such. It’s about managing expectations. I am building a blanket fort and sitting down in it. So to speak.
Please don’t get angry about future delays in replies and lack of online participation. Recall that once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was NORMAL to wait hours or days between episodes of interaction.
Maybe no one will mind at all. Probably no one will care. I’m probably worried about nothing. The hard part is convincing myself it’s okay.
Imma go work on that now. Next post will have some practical details and particulars.