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Culture & Religion

Never Stop Learning: Optimizing the Time Between Instant Messages

How many cumulative hours have you wasted waiting for your chat partner to respond to you? A new program created by an MIT Ph.D. student offers an opportunity to make your instant message intermissions as productive as possible.

Here’s a thought exercise: How many cumulative hours have you wasted throughout your entire life waiting for chat partners to respond to your messages? To calculate this, you’d need to know how often you chat, how many messages on average you exchange with friends, how long you’ve regularly used an instant messenger, and how long it typically takes the other person in your conversation to respond. Let’s say hypothetically that it’s 10 seconds between messages. Let’s then say that you send an average of 24 messages per conversation. That’s four minutes per chat spent waiting. After a few months, you’re looking at hours having been flushed down the drain.

Most of us are probably unproductive during that time, which is a problem MIT Ph.D. student Carrie Cai sought to fix when she started developing a new tool for optimizing the small waiting gaps we experience every day. Adam Conner-Simons of MIT News has the scoop:

“The average person spends 10 to 15 minutes a day waiting for texts and instant-message (IM) replies, according to an analysis by Carrie Cai, a Ph.D. student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL).

What if you could be more productive during those idle moments? Cai is on the case.

A CSAIL team led by Cai recently developed ‘WaitChatter,’ a Google Chat extension that delivers foreign-language vocab quizzes right to your chatbox any time the system detects that you are waiting for an instant message.”

Cai’s idea is brilliant: Why not incorporate bits of microlearning into these everyday blank moments? As mentioned above, her WaitChatter extension is designed to drill users with educational tools in the gaps between messages. She calls this innovation “wait-learning,” and although it may not be optimal for difficult concepts such as learning a new language, Cai’s creation could serve as an excellent cramming assistant in the same vein as flashcards. What’s most unique — and certainly the most important takeaway — is that WaitChatter is a simple innovation that caters to those with low attention spans (i.e., basically the entire social media generation) and seeks to better people’s lives by taking advantage of those low attention spans.  

Read more at MIT News Office.

Image credit: Jane Kelly / Shutterstock


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