Blog Post

Distracted Brainstorming

In attempting to narrow down my research interests for the ACM Newberry Seminar, I was asked to consider how the medium of communication affected the message of multiple brainstorming sessions. I know a lot of people who strongly dislike the distractions and untimely responses that come with more impersonal methods of communication like instant messaging and email, but personally, I’ve always hated talking on the phone for many of the same reasons. Phone calls invite so many of the same problems (think phone tag and the ever-distracting small talk embedded in phone call culture) and is additionally entirely dependent on the other person’s availability at the exact moment of the phone call, while text-based communication allows the other person to respond at their convenience, records the conversation, and allows overlapping conversations without losing information. However, my parents dislike digitally-based textual communication to nearly the same degree I hate phone calls. Needless to say, they’re the only people I ever talk to on the phone. And interestingly enough, even though it was the brainstorming session during which I was the most distracted, talking with my parents on the phone ended up being far more productive than a face-to-face talk with my roommate.

I know my parents sometimes get frustrated talking to me on the phone because I can never just talk to them on the phone - I have to be running around, on my computer, doing homework, or anything just to not waste so much time with my phone glued to my ear. After waiting half an hour for their attention to turn toward my research project, they both admitted they knew very little about any of my topics of choice: looking at the role of women in either the Pullman Strike of 1894 or Haymarket, or researching something about Chicago’s Polish history and culture during the World War II era. As we were discussing these, we got off-topic a number of times, and I found myself wandering all over my apartment, impatient with their lack of attention to my current dilemma. At one point, I found myself standing on a chair looking out the window as an airplane flew by, and I don’t even know what my parents had been saying, but I just interrupted and said “O’Hare.” 

And just like that, a new topic was born. We then spent a considerable amount of time discussing more specific trains of thought while I got out my computer to google the history of O’Hare Airport and related holdings at the Newberry, which unfortunately were somewhat lacking. This led to another conversation thread that ended with more searching for sources on aforementioned topics and finding numerous resources about feminism, women’s involvement in social reform movements, and women in the radical left, which interested me even more in those topics. 

In comparison, the face-to-face conversation without technological distractions I had with my roommate yielded fewer results because I found myself stuck in the same place and focusing more on the conversation, which led to a sort of dead-end conversation, rather than letting my mind and actions run as freely as in conversations when I can use my computer. The use of technology as a supplement to conversation can create a sort of multimedia conversation that when directed, can be highly effective at facilitating and furthering conversation and the flow of ideas, especially when participants are working with limited knowledge on the subject matter. I wonder if I had been in an instant messaging conversation, where it’s easy to directly link to other online resources, what might have been produced. 

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