Presence: The Next Generation

November 1, 2006 at 12:37 pm | Posted in Attention Management | 1 Comment

I was watching a re-run of Star Trek: The Next Generation today while eating lunch (“New Ground”, 1992 according to Tivo). In one scene Worf, the security officer, is talking to Captain Picard in the Captain’s office and gets interrupted by a high pitched series of tones followed by the voice of the school teacher with some low importance request about paperwork for his son Alexander. This must be a futuristic form of instant messaging! Five seconds later the Captain is midsentence and they are interrupted again, this time by the doctor with a minor request about setting up an appointment. Worf angrily states that this is not a good time to talk and the Captain has to calm him down.

I have been having many interesting discussions with my colleague, Mike Gotta, about presence management – that “free/busy/away” indicator you see in instant messaging tools. While neither of us believes most people will take the trouble to update interruption rules or keep their presence status manually updated, I have been a bit more optimistic about how some people may learn to set up rules once the pain of interruptions finally exceeds the pain of figuring out how to block them. I’ve argued that better technology will tip that equation in favor of setting up simple or implicit rules in the next generation of tools (~3-5 years from now).

It’s enlightening to see that even in Gene Roddenburry’s idealized future – where computers have perfect voice command recognition and infinite computational powers, where we fly through space at faster-than-light speeds, where humanity has solved all internal strife between races and countries such that the only dangers and threats lie in space itself – computer systems are still expected to have no concept of presence, location, role, or interruption management. The only advance in attention management technology on the Enterprise is that it has progressed to the point that it allows anyone to instantly find you anywhere on the ship and interrupt you in the most annoying way possible.

If this is the state of interruption science in the 24th century, I guess I should revise my timeline for market availability of improved presence technology …


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  1. […] Moreover, as Craig Roth insightfully notes, if Captain Picard doesn’t have effective interruption management technology, businesses today probably should be cautious about the prospects for developing it. […]

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