How harmful could a chat window be?
Research shows that instant messaging services like GChat cause all sorts of problems for productivity. They encourage distraction, stymie free thinking, and cheapen our communications.
Yet, we love GChat. As Kate Bratskeir writes at the Huffington Post, our “reliance on GChat grew out of necessity.” At least a third of us work in open office spaces, where anything you say to your desk mate can be heard by the 20 people around you. That makes the chat box a space of privacy. Then there’s the 13.4 Americans working remotely — how could we telecommute without GChat? After all, when GChat goes down, we report it as a “nightmare.”
But while IM may be a modern workplace necessity, it has its evils. Here are a few of them.
1. GChat makes us think we can multitask all day.
While we might feel like we’re good at multitasking, we’re not. Research shows that the more we spread our attention between tasks, the less aware we are of that expenditure. Psychologists call it “meta-cognition,” the awareness you have of whatever’s going through your mind. But whenever you start trying to do tons of things at once, the less aware you are of the situation you’re in. That’s why texting and driving is so frightening; you can run a red light without even realising it.
GChat, perhaps even more than email, prompts us to switch between unrelated tasks. Like Bratskeir says, we fall into multitasking all too easily: “You’ve decided to generously help your coworker brainstorm over GChat for her project, intermittently, while attempting to complete your own assignment,” she writes. “But you’re not really doing anybody any favours.”
Our brains, it turns out, have a terrible time with switching between tasks. Intermittently helping someone with their work over GChat wrecks your productivity for the same reason hearing your colleagues prattle all day is exhausting. With your GChat open all day, you’re inviting that distraction.
2. GChat makes us “collaborate” all day.
Collaboration is a beloved management buzzword, but it doesn’t always help. As Northwestern University professor Leigh Thompson has found, people are most effective when they have a rhythm between working alone and working together.
“Creativity happens when you work independently,” Thompson says. “Individuals are really good at generating a whole lot of ideas, while groups are good at selecting, shaping, and refining those ideas.”
This is because talking to people can actually make us less creative. Research suggests that people are super suggestible: Once one person in a group presents an idea, everybody else merely reacts to it, losing the opportunity for ideas that are truly original.
The problem with GChat, then, is that we have the constant option to think over our ideas with our best friends and closest colleagues. This is great when you’ve got the plan fully formed, but it can keep us from having original thoughts.
3. GChat constricts our communication.
As anyone who’s ever gotten into a text-fight with their partner can attest, a chat box is not nearly the same as a phone call or in-person conversation.
Media scholars say this is due to differences in the “richness” of each medium. The richer the medium, the more information you have to work with.
When you’re talking in person, you have facial expressions, body language, and tone to interpret. On the phone, you’ve got vocal intonation and rhythms of speech. But with chat, all you’ve got are a few lines of text, without all those communicative clues. Leading, inevitably, to miscommunication.
So if you have something important to discuss, you may want to book a conference room instead.
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.