We’re not yet fully aware of this, but thousands of children grow up today talking to, ordering and asking questions from an automated domestic assistant installed in their bedrooms. “Alexa, play It’s Raining Tacos” is what Rachel Metz, editor of the MIT Technology Review, hears her 4-year-old niece say. Her family have several Amazon Echo Dot devices installed around the house. In her article “ Growing up with Alexa”, Rachel Metz reflects on how these digital butlers will affect children’s education and behaviour. What is clear is that the way in which they communicate will be very different from how we do it.
If you consider the fact that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have to see their grandparents, uncles or friends through mobile applications like Skype, we reach an obvious conclusion: their way of communicating will be very different from ours.
But not all communication paradigms come with such revolutionary technologies like Artificial Intelligence o 5G. In 2017, the Twitter hashtag was 10 years old. It’s hard to think that there was a time when we didn’t use it. Not even the company itself saw the potential, as it was users who popularised its use as a tag. Which is precisely where the success of the hashtag lies: it is a way of classifying all the information that affects us, as it is impossible to analyse it all in depth.
We live in a world where technology evolves more rapidly than our capacity to adapt to it. We don’t know what technology has in store for us, but we can play at guessing how we will interact with people in the future.
How will the communication of the future be?
We live in a time of “immediate sharing”
We’ve all experienced it: we go into a restaurant and see couples glued to their mobile phone screens. Or perhaps we even do it ourselves. The way in which we communicate has evolved, going from a time when we “lived” the moment, to that in which we “share” it.
Today, very few of us will go to a concert without taking a video or a picture. Messaging apps and social networks allow us to share the moment while we’re actually living it. Suddenly, the experience belongs not only to you and the friends with whom you’ve physically gone to the concert, but also to the contacts on your social networks. And not only that, we can even broadcast our experience live using any streaming app available.
All of this shared information means that we create an enormous data base of experiences, such that we can learn almost in real time what’s going on on the other side of the world.
We will have more experiences than any of our predecessors, it’s just that we’ll have them through others. Experiences are complete when we share them with our communities, and this leads to us reducing our communication with the people around us.
Interpersonal communications will disappear
In 2017, our former colleague Ana Salgado,which at the time was DataLAB Manager in Ferrovial, reflected on the death of interpersonal communications in this blog. We’re more connected than ever, we speak with friends and family the world over, and we have an ever-increasing number of tools with which to bridge distances… But all this technology makes us shy away from personal conversations, which are essential for social relationships between human beings. However, there is still time to reduce the damage, as Ana explained in her article.
We’ll know a lot about you before even talking to you
Have you ever thought that when your son grows up he’ll be able to access a platform with information on everything you have done throughout your life? Simply by accessing your personal profile on Facebook or Instagram, for example, he’ll have a good idea as to your likes, where you’ve travelled, what music you listened to, etc.
This is a generation that will have access to a whole lot more personal information on their contacts that we ever had. And so the way in which they interact will also be different. Perhaps there will be greater acceptance and respect for everyone, or perhaps people will choose their friends before even talking to them.
In any case, we are becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect our privacy, and no doubt we will tend towards greater awareness in this regard. However, whatever has been published to date, will stay published.
We’ll speak different languages, but we will understand each other
Will it be possible to be on an international call and simultaneously understand all the participants, even if they all speak their own native language? Or to translate a poster by simply taking a photograph?
Google has for years been working on a simultaneous translation project, a sort of Tower of Babel 2.0. The applications for this are enormous, both on a professional and a personal level.
We’re bringing down the language barriers, participating more in the cultures and traditions of other regions. But how will this affect those very traditions? Could it be that integration will make them global? These are issues to which it is difficult to find an answer today.
And it’s not a question of understanding other people only. Amazon is working on a project for translating… what your pet is trying to tell you!
And what of the widespread use of emojis, a kind of modern-day Esperanto? Today we use some of these symbols for transmitting emotions, sensations or feelings. As a Digital Manager for Ferrovial, I use them often for gaining greater interaction in our publications and to reinforce our messages. But I still ask myself: am I using them in a grammatically correct manner? Does the full stop go before or after the emoji? No doubt the rapid rise in the use of emojis in the written language will require new rules to be drawn up. 😉
Communication with robots is growing
And it will grow even more over the coming years. “Conversation bots or chatbots are all the rage” says Cristina García-Ochoa, Head of Innovation projects for Ferrovial. Although in this case, for the time being, it is they who have to learn to communicate with us.
And note my use of “for the time being”. In the words of journalist Juan Samaniego: “As the world becomes ever more robotised, the debate grows as to whether our society is going to be able to adapt to the revolution of machines.” Science fiction and Hollywood have tried to find an answer to these questions, in most cases with apocalyptic results.
The truth is that we have begun an unstoppable phase in which we will adapt our language so that software can understand it. And that very software will try to mimic a reply which is as close as possible to what a real human being would say. The same thinking as the Tyrell Corporation, the company that created the Replicants in Blade Runner:
“Our motto: more human than human.”
The way we inform and entertain ourselves has evolved
As a result of COVID-19, many people have replaced their Sunday football matches for a couple of games of Among Us or other online video games. This change has had a direct impact on the way we entertain ourselves that no one expected.
But I wanted to focus my reflection on a debate that has been going on for a long time: direct competition from social media and the media itself. During the last few years, there has been what is technically referred to as a transmedia relationship: I watch a TV show while commenting on it on my Twitter account using the official hashtag.
It seems that everything is changing with the increase of streaming platforms like Twitch. In this platform, influencers, and many anonymous users, live stream different content, while gaining thousands of followers. The most shocking thing in this scenario is the little production that is required by their broadcasts. From the transmedia relationship, we move on to a stage where some people watch TV, while others use their mobile phones to stream media.
We are individuals, not focus groups
As professionals working in communications for companies, we have to adapt almost every day not only to new platforms, but also to new uses of the same platforms. Such was the case of Manuel Bartual and his real-time story on Twitter.
As users, after a period of anonymity, we now want to be heard and to receive personalised messages. Advertising and the media are working on adjusting their messages as much as possible to their target audiences.
Our challenge as communications professionals and as a company is to know who our target audience is and adapt to the manner in which that audience looks for and interacts with information. Either with live videos, with emojis, privately or with robots…
What do you think? Do these tendencies improve the way in which we communicate, or will they negatively affect our interpersonal relationships?