My recent experience with backchanneling has got me thinking about multitasking. I’m not a huge multitasker by nature; I like to have one thing finished before moving on to the next, and start to mutter under my breath when I have to juggle more than 3 things at once; talking to more than 2 people, max, on IM at one time makes me crazy. Grad school certainly challenged this stance, and I’m slowly learning to be more flexible. And being flexible is definitely a good thing, though I’m not totally convinced that being pulled in 10 different directions is optimal (and some <a href=”research supports this as well)… it’s the whole breadth vs. depth thing, and as I experienced a couple of weeks ago at ssaw in LA, I definitely missed stuff that was happening in the room as I attempted to keep up with the IRC backchannel and the IM messages being sent my way, not to mention notetaking. Missed stuff like people introducing themsevles. On the other hand, I was able to pursue some interesting topics on the backchannel, and there was this thrilling sense of liberation. 🙂 I know this is probably a socially conditioned response – the person in the room speaking is the most important and thus my attention should be on her/him… we were brought together for a meeting in a particular time and place and space, and so it seemed that performing “the meeting” was the most important thing.
I know this is kind of muddled up, just thinking out loud… so there’s the issue of how to judge what is most important to pay attention to (in terms of content), and what we are expected to pay attention to (socially)… so as we reconstruct the meeting context to embrace backchannels, a big question is how to weave these multiple strands together in such a way that the goal of the meeting is met, as well as the multiple goals of the people in the room, assuming that each person is looking to get something different out of the meeting and that we’re supporting this idea through making backchannels available?