When you’re working with other people, communication is key. As we work today, most of us have a variety of available options. And when I’ve asked people why they prefer one method to the other, the response is usually around fit or function. But I think there’s more to it.
In The Martian the original team on the planet would radio back and forth with Earth. Based on the speed of light, this causes a time delay of 12 minutes. So an answer would appear 24 minutes after the asking.
I can imagine this results in taking some time in framing your conversation.
I think email is like that. It gives you a sense of completeness, a form that can be reviewed, stored in draft, mulled over until you’re finally satisfied to send it. The turn around time can be lengthy, obviously not because of speed of light, but more affected by complexity of day. But we accept this delay knowing the email conversation is a structured, well-accepted means of collaboration.
After being left behind, Mark Watney had to figure out some way to communicate his existence. There was NO communication channel. Through creativity and clever problem solving on both planets, Mark was able restore to service the Mar’s Pathfinder that had a camera and ability to send images. At first it was a matter of posting a binary question on a sign with “yes” and “no” signs on either side. When the Pathfinder relayed the picture of the question, Johnson Space Center personnel would remotely direct the rover camera to the left or right…giving Mark the answer. The binary interface was awful and time delay was huge, but it was communication.
In today’s world I would guess an instant message, use of emoticons (single character to represent a larger message), chat or maybe even a tweet would be comparable. It gets the job done but it’s difficult to be the container for an expansive conversation…or so we think.
Mark Twain once said, “Sorry for such a long letter. I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” When communicating, it’s imperative to not lose the message in the medium. You have to think a lot about shortening a message to its bare essentials.
Some of my first communications with my team after the accident came by way of chat message. Attempting to relate a complex story in a few phrases was challenging. I spent a lot of time reading back what I had written to make sure it was meeting my intention.
Several iterations and improvements later, Mark was able to connect his Rover 2 computer to the Pathfinder transmitter. Now he had text based communication using a keyboard/screen. Much better interface but still the time delay.
After my admission, I was able to use the hospital wifi and my iPad to improve my communication. I then posted a few status updates and using email began seeking replacements for my upcoming commitments. Most of these were sent, and then I awaited a response.
In the end, the Hermes came close enough to Mars to enable Mark to speak directly to the crew. The interchange was filled with humor, personality and feeling. Attributes that are sometimes difficult to relate in text.
Here is where I saw something special happen. At one point, Mark makes a suggestion about cutting a hole in his space suit and use the escaping air to help him “fly like Iron Man”. The ideas was dismissed, but as the crew later used that same principle to slow down the Hermes to facilitate Mark’s retrieval. (spoiler alert: Mark did get to use his suggestion and “fly like Iron Man”) The point is that when open and direct communication is available, the flow of ideas seem to increase and the ability to suggest “wild duck” options is available and encouraged. Such banter and brain storming would be hindered if not impossible using the rudimentary binary communication system first used.
So as I recover, I expect to utilize ALL the communication channels available to a mobile worker. I’ll text and instant message, I’ll use email and of course I’ll use phone, webinars, video and voice conference calls to get to work.