September 5th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Everything bad about Slack is fundamentally Slack’s fault. Slack’s sane default for a new user is to play a sound and send a desktop notification every time anything happens anywhere. There is no way to simply turn off the screaming red circle on the dock icon. There is no way to simply fold away the sidebar so you can focus on whatever it is you are trying to do. These UI nitpicks help us understand Slack’s conception of the Good Life. Fine tune controls on the level of noise each channel is allowed to make give the illusion of control and serenity, but, to go directly and without shame to the cigarette company analogies, what we’ve got is Marlboro Lights when what we really need is some way to stop smoking.
To be clear, if you are having a deliberate and hard-earned break from whatever it is you do when you are using your brain, and are freely choosing to focus wholeheartedly on goofing off on Slack, then I support you unreservedly. Personally, if and when I have the time to goof off on Slack then I generally prefer to finish working early and go home. I do see the value in workplace camaraderie, but not as much as in having a really great bath. For once I really don’t mean to be judgmental; everything is a tradeoff, and I almost definitely have fewer work friends than you.
…Everyone with an office job knows that everyone with an office job hates meetings, and has bonded over this fact with other people with office jobs at dinner parties.
But reducing the number of meetings is not a moral good in itself. Meetings can be fantastic. A specified, planned period of time where you can get your thoughts together and come out with a set of defined objectives can be a beautiful thing. When a meeting is run with care, empathy, and a rigorous, adhered-to agenda, it can be a wonderful way to achieve spiritual enlightenment and enhance shareholder value at the same time. On the other hand, Jason Fried describes group chat, using words that I wish I had thought of first, as “an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda”. Replacing conference rooms and video calls with an amorphous, atemporal and poorly capitalized wall of text is not progress.
Everyone who has heard about forced context-switching will tell you about how horrible it is, and they will all be correct. However, without forced context-switching Slack loses a lot of its shine and sparkle. You should not expect any quiet mode features that work or are enabled by default. There is no way to send a message saying “hey, no rush, but if you could XYZ sometime in the next day or two that would be sweet.” If you have ever sent or received such a message, you will have noticed Slack’s innovative feature whereby when someone types the words “hey, no rush but” they are auto-corrected in the mind of the receiver to “DO THIS NOW NOW NOW NOW I HATE YOU”. Sending your request by email would allow the recipient to deal with it in their own time and mark it for later, but when Slack is available sending an email feels creepy and weird and like sending an intimate Snapchat asking for last quarter’s growth figures.