By Dan Moren
April 30, 2016 12:20 PM PT
What I Use: Keeping in touch
So much of technology is about keeping in touch. Take the technological device we probably use the most: our phone. The device that derives from was fundamentally about communication, and now that use has only expanded to other forms of reaching out to other people. So here’s a short look into what I use to stay in touch with people.
First of all, communication is a continuum, and even more so these days. Our conversations range from private one-on-one, to private amongst groups of friends and colleagues, to public with the world at large. And all of those uses ask for different tools.
For private communication, I tend to stick to the standbys. There are a lot of popular chat applications, but Apple’s built-in Messages app on both iOS and OS X remains my primary way to talk directly with friends, colleagues, and even family. (When even my mom has started texting me, it’s time to concede that it’s the new lingua franca.) That’s been helped along by the fact that most—though not all—of my contacts use iOS devices. (It wasn’t so long ago that I was on a strict text messaging regimen, thanks to a limit on how many I could send a month—boy am I glad to be out from under that one.) I used to use instant messaging quite a bit, back in the day with Adium, and more recently with Messages, but I found myself thinking the other day that I’ve largely shifted away from that, with the exception of a few friends who still use Gchat, which I use via Messages. Perhaps it’s time to finally let go of that screenname I started using in 1994.
Email, of course, is inescapable. Despite the perennial claims of email killing promised by communications app, a ton of my work and personal correspondance are still handled by email. And for me, that means iOS and OS X’s built-in Mail clients. Why not use some of the more popular third-party clients? Frankly, Mail—despite its shortcomings and occasionally glitchiness—is comfortable and familiar, has most of the features that I want out of a mail client, and simply put has the best integration with other apps on both iOS and OS X. With the amount of time I spend in my mail client, it would be nice to have one I love, but for the moment, it helps that Mail generally doesn’t explode at me on a daily basis—despite the 72,000+ messages in my Inbox. (Sorry, Merlin!) Sometimes the tool that works is the right one for the job.
The middle ground that’s emerged more recently is the private/public space, perhaps best exemplified by Slack. I’ve been using Slack—via the iOS and OS X apps—daily for more than a year now, and in that time, I’ve found myself accumulating them a bit like extra socks from the dryer: you never quite know when you’ll find another odd one. I have seven distinct Slacks now, ranging from those that we use to coordinate activities here at Six Colors to those for the podcast networks I’m a part of to a few private ones that I set up. Most of those have several channels, not to mention private conversations with other users of those Slacks. While I’ve seen some shift away from using email thanks to some of those Slack rooms, more often than not there’s a Slack that works in conjunction with an email list to help schedule events (whether they be podcasts or Destiny raids). But Slack has also proved to be a fascinating water-cooler for me, letting me stay in touch with the communities I’m a part of and providing me with some much needed socializing in an otherwise solitary line of work.
Which brings me to the public realm: social media. I’ve been on Twitter for almost a decade now, and I still believe that it’s a great way to interact with folks that I might otherwise not chance to meet. But I’ve also dialed back my usage of it, going from obsessively reading every single tweet in my timeline to skipping large swaths of it, especially over weekends. But it still keeps me connected to a bigger world than I experience in any of those other venues. It’s also great for publicizing projects I’m working on and getting feedback from people. That said, there’s an overwhelming tone problem of combativeness and straight-up abuse that can also make Twitter an unpleasant experience—not unlike Internet comments, its anonymity and lack of consequences can make it a downright hostile place, especially for communities that are already targeted with a large amount of abuse. But I’ve refused to give up on it yet because I still see Twitter’s potential, and because it still appeals to me in a way that its biggest rival, Facebook, doesn’t. And rare is the day where Twitter doesn’t make laugh at least once.
So that’s how I use technology to keep in touch—oh, I almost forgot the phone itself! Nah, I’m just kidding. Who uses that, anyway?
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]