Consider the thought behind “The medium is the message”. In short, the characteristics of the communication carry an important subtext that is often more powerful than the content itself. In addition, mediums are suitable for certain messages and entirely unsuitable for others. But the medium prefers we consider it neutral.

Consider this as an example: a hypothetical person named Jerry would like to consider himself up to date on the latest in politics. He thinks he is an expert on the latest news. He does this through browsing the latest news articles forwarded to him by friends who share his political persuasion, and by following ‘thought leaders’ on social media that also share his political views.

Now, Jerry might consider himself somewhat knowledgeable. But what would happen if he were asked about the details of the most recent state budget bills? There’s a good chance he’ll know nothing at all about them.

It’s not surprising why. News outlets primarily focus on national stories, as those get the largest readership. Those stories are emotionally laden to encourage fast consumption. The medium is not built to support in-depth analysis. And social media doesn’t even pretend to do in-depth analysis. The real loss here is that Jerry probably doesn’t even think he’s missing out on much. He assumes that his choice of medium is covering everything, when it very clearly isn’t.

I use this all as a preface to talk about what’s really bothering me, which is Slack.

If you work in technology, there’s a better-than-average chance you’re using Slack and don’t like it that much. As a medium, there are some obvious reasons why:

  1. Slack rewards shallow interactions. No amount of UI changes can cover up this design. Slack succeeds by facilitating voluminous shallow interactions. The messages with the fewest replies will nearly always be long, well-thought-out paragraphs. The messages with the most replies will nearly always be shallow communication of little substance.

  2. Like social media, Slack prioritizes recency and has a poor memory. Slack conversations are designed to be disposable. Even enterprise accounts delete older messages. Search is difficult to use. None of the designs encourages long-lasting or ‘complete’ conversations.

  3. Slack conflates ‘being on Slack’ with ‘working.' While this could easily be considered the fault of organizations implementing this, it’s no mistake. Having an ‘available’ icon is treated as ‘at work.’ It discourages being off of Slack. A productivity tool should facilitate work, not become the work.

  4. Slack treats all messages equally. Notifications treat all messages equally. The intern @ing you with a cat giphy has the same notification as the CEO @ing you to let you know you’re fired.

All those things about social media we’ve come to hate over the last decade are now transferred to work via Slack. We must have better ways to do this by now.