I’ve been a computer geek since it wasn’t cool.

“Learning to code” when I was a kid would bring quick looks of confusion, then judgey disapproval.

That didn’t stop me and many in my social circle. Not only did we continue to hack away on our Apple ][‘s, IBM-XT’s and AT’s, 286’s and 386’s, we began to get much of our social fulfillment through them as well.

Through a magical venue called the BBS – the Bulletin Board System. Virtual mail and text based video games were available. Often with levels of asynchronaity that would boggle the mind of one of these young whipper-snappers that carries a super-computer around in their back pocket. Because it was most of the time, one dial up line at a time. I login, do stuff, logout. Then you login, respond, and logout. Primitive, I know.

My favorite BBS’s were the ones with multiple lines – I could chat *IN REALTIME* <gasp> with people far far away from me. Like two or three towns away.

We learned to communicate with text. Text that was sent and received extremely slowly by today’s standards. And we learned to communicate emotion – with sideways smiley faces, sad faces, confused faces. Everyone had their own style too.

One of the greatest compliments I remember receiving, was when one of the adult BBS users told me that I was particularly good at getting emotion across in that tough setting. I appreciate the compliment even more now, because it was just what we did back then, but I now realize how much of a skill it is.

Anyway – enough of the “get-off-my-lawn” sermonizing. If we cut forward a few years (2007 or so), I worked at a software development shop that was (admirably progressive for the time) fully remote. I didn’t realize it at first, but some of us had radically higher capacity for communicating via the primarily text-based avenues available at the time.

For several folks it was such a distinct disadvantage that it created some serious interpersonal problems. The leadership (again, admirably) had monthly and quarterly in-person meetings to make sure we were all connecting and getting the advantage of in-person communication. Though, the majority of us connected, related, socialized, and produced well through primarily text-based channels (and some voice-based channels).

And that is one of the keys – we all had a lot of just relating and socializing that we did with text, which, as it does in person, greases the way to productivity. A lot of people treat text-based communication as a necessary evil and use it only when it’s necessary to produce. Having informal, human conversation over text is integral to building chops for better including emotional content, but it also solves one of the big arguments that gets put against remote productivity; serendipity.

“But you don’t have the same kind of serendipitous conversations that you do when you’re in person”.

But WHY do you have those serendipitous conversations in person – because you leave your cube, and engage your human need to interact with people. Since many folks treat text communication only as a tool of last resort – and don’t engage in it simply to meet their basic needs, they don’t find themselves in the same kind of serendipitous conversations.

When you treat text based conversation as a first-class interaction mechanism, rather than one of last resort, the same serendipity will happen.

As a society we’re moving forward in this. It is a skill. And it is an important one – since it opens up a world of productivity that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Kyle