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Way Too Much Information December 2, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Technology.
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1 comment so far

I received an invitation to Google Wave a few weeks ago.  I was anxious to try it, but got little traction.  Since then, a few more friends have joined, and I’ve been able to experiment a little bit.  The jury is still out on the ultimate usefulness of the tool, but there is one “feature” that gives me pause.

If several people are actively participating in a conversation, the Wave interface actually shows their typing, in real time.  This is the next logical extension of existing instant messaging platforms, which note when another party is actually typing.  This was a handy feature, since it let you know if the person at the other end was actively participating.  Wave’s extension, on the other hand, is unnerving.

Very few people, myself included, write complete, rational thoughts on the first try.  Instead, we type, think, delete, edit, retype, and iterate until we have composed a complete message.  We often start out with something that we later contradict, or use a word or tone that we might regret and subsequently remove.  The end product represents a finished thought.

Google Wave exposes that entire process.  It is weird, and a bit voyeuristic, to watch someone in the act of composition.  In one conversation, I actually began responding to a person’s message, only to have them edit and change it before after I had posted my now-inappropriate response.  My response made no sense, and they knew I had been privy to a thought they later chose to retract.

It should be obvious by now that I am a big fan of all these new-fangled communications tools.  I like the idea of being instantly connected, and I enjoy the immediacy of keeping up with other people.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn: I get it, and I use it.

But this crosses a line.  I am happy to share what I am doing, but I am not willing to expose my actual thought processes before they are fully formed.  Rapid communication is fine, but at some point there are aspects of what I am doing that I absolutely do not want to share.

I suspect that the folks at Wave did not set out to design a “thought exposure” feature.  Instead, I suspect they think that this is just a cooler way of showing that the other parties are typing and interacting.  I’m hoping that they’ll see the error of their ways and at least let me turn this feature off.

The whole experience reminded me of a scene from the show Married… With Children. Peg Bundy and her long-suffering husband Al are sitting silently on the couch.  Peg finally tries to break the ice by asking, “Al, what are you thinking?”  Al, speaking on behalf of every man on earth, replies, “If I wanted you to know, I’d be talking.”

Google, if I want people to know what I’m thinking, I’ll click “Done.” Until then, I’ll keep my keystrokes to myself.

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