Using in-room chat as a social tool

Clay Shirky reports that recent use of chat room technology in a meeting situation changed the interrupt logic that normally occurs when 30 or so people are involved similtaneously. Shirky reports that;

“Group conversations are exercises in managing interruptions. When someone is speaking, the listeners are often balancing the pressure to be polite with a desire to interrupt, whether to add material, correct or contradict the speaker, or introduce an entirely new theme. These interruptions are often tangential, and can lead to still more interruptions or follow-up comments by still other listeners. Furthermore, conversations that proceed by interruption are governed by the people best at interrupting. People who are shy, polite, or like to take a moment to compose their thoughts before speaking are at a disadvantage.

Even with these downsides, however, the tangents can be quite valuable, so if an absolute “no interrupt” rule were enforced, at least some material of general interest would be lost, and the frustration level among the participants consigned solely to passive listening would rise considerably.

The chat room undid these effects, because participants could add to the conversation without interrupting, and the group could pursue tangential material in the chat room while listening in the real room. It was remarkable how much easier it was for the speaker to finish a complex thought without being cut off. And because chat participants had no way of interrupting one another in the chat room, even people not given to speaking out loud could participate. Indeed, one of our most active participants contributed a considerable amount of high-quality observation and annotation while saying almost nothing out loud for two days.”

Article available here…