Over the past few decades, communicating through messaging and social media platforms has been associated with socializing and connecting with the people around us. Since the platforms through which we communicate are constantly evolving, this post will explore how we arrived where we are today, and what communication might look like in the future, based on the three main types of communication that we use:
- Conversation. Useful for exchanging information specific to those involved in the discussion.
- Mass communication. Used for sharing information all can benefit from. For example, “Stay away from these berries, they’ll kill you.”
- Messages. Necessary when humans no longer lived in isolated tribes and had to communicate with people who lived far away. Particularly useful as early warning systems.
How Technology Evolved Communication
Over the past few hundred years, technology has been created to improve each of the three methods of communication. Radio enhanced mass communication by increasing the number of people who receive information at once. Telephones improved conversation by enabling it to happen when people are in different locations. And text messaging sped up the time it took to relay information. Instead of it taking weeks to get a message, with texting it only takes seconds.
Later, the creation of the World Wide Web took these improvements to a whole new level. Suddenly, we could see the people we were talking to on platforms such as Skype. We could send longer messages via email and more interesting messages by including pictures and gifs. Then, anyone with an internet connection, gained the ability to communicate to the masses using social media.
But communicating conveniently, came at a cost. Quality decreased. Like eating junk food that fills us up, but has no nutritional value, we have been participating in lower quality communication on platforms just to fill our social needs.
How Technology Could Further Improve Communication
Looking at how communication has evolved over the past couple of centuries, it’s possible to predict what the future might look like.
1. Conversations. FaceTime has tried to replicate what an in person conversation is like. So digital conversations are likely to go down the virtual reality route in order to get us closer to a true face to face experience. In addition to feeling more like we are with the person, it will also keep our focus on him or her. Virtual reality will do this by removing distractions in our peripheral vision — a function videochat is not capable of yet. This will bring us much closer to having digital conversations that more closely reflect real world interactions.
2. Mass communication. Currently, mass communication platforms (social media) assume that content type is irrelevant. For example, when we like a post from a friend for its specific content (a picture of their wedding), that social media platform does not take into account what the topic or nature of that content was. So we continue to be fed information from that individual, regardless of the content of his or her posts. I imagine that in the future it’ll become more personalized for example showing me my friend’s vacation pictures but not all the articles he shares about boxing that don’t interest me.
3. Messaging. When it comes to messaging, one of the biggest issues is susceptibility to misinterpretation. If you don’t know what I mean, check out this Key and Peele sketch that sums it up perfectly. It could be possible that in the future, the message you send is not what is received. The sent message could be automatically translated to remove the bias of the sender and adjust to that of the receiver in order to increase the probability of the intended message being received.
How Technology Could Improve Us
What gets me most excited is not how technology can improve, but how technology can improve us. I believe that we’ll start to see a new form of platform emerging soon. These social interaction platforms will understand what we want to talk about with any given person and create natural ways to trigger those interactions. In the same way that social media delivers us a constant feed of everything we want to consume, social interaction platforms will deliver us a constant feed of everything we want to interact about. This will enable us to increase the amount we communicate. But more importantly, it will improve the quality in which we communicate.
These platforms will take many forms but will have one thing in common: They will be built around the ability to track, analyze and design social behaviors. In the same way current platforms are built to change user behaviors by understanding them better, these new platforms will use social engineering to help us “magically” start conversations with people in a similar way to how we do when we talk to friends in the real world.
Using various mechanics and principles such as social catalysts, engineering serendipity, relationship based data models and algorithms (which we’ll get into another time), people will be able to design products that make interacting with others as easy as consuming media is on Facebook.
The End Of The Social Media Era?
Will all of these new technologies replace social media? No, the introduction of social interaction platforms will enable us to increase the quantity and quality of our interactions with other humans. We won’t need to use social media to fill the void of socializing. As a result, social media and texting will become purer version of themselves. They will only be used for the main functions they provide.
Social media will literally be social…media. Meaning it will be news about your friends, from your friends. In the same way that I check the news in the morning, I will check my social news to see all the latest and most important developments in my friends’ lives. As an improvement, social media will be able to filter out people we no longer talk to or care about. For example, Nick from my high school chemistry classes who I haven’t spoken to since I was 18.
Similarly, texting will be purer. It will be less conversational and more utility based. People will most likely use it for brief messages like “Running late see you in 5.” or “Coffee next Friday?”
After a few hundred years of technology focusing on increasing the convenience of communication, we’re about to enter an age where the focus shifts to improving the overall quality of communication.