Everyone who has ever used public transport knows the ‘unspoken law’ of the comfortable silence. This moment each day should be seized, it is an opportunity to think, reflect or just switch off in an otherwise hectic day.
In cities in particular, it is known that talking to the people around us is simply not the done thing, a twenty-first century faux pas if there ever was one. But should we be comfortable with this barrier of silence that society has collectively put on face-to-face human interaction?
Of course, during these ‘quiet’ times, we will still chat freely to people elsewhere in the world via our digital devices. People are increasingly focussing on their isolated ‘bubbles’ and avoiding the ‘real’ world. It is a phenomenon caused by technology, growing noticeably since the advent of the mobile phone. But could technology also be the solution to break down those walls and get people socialising again?
What responsibility does technology have?
As a society we stand together at a cross roads. Technology continues to further infiltrate our lives, and in some ways it is actually making us more social, yet somehow, the same technology isn’t advanced enough to break more intimate personal barriers.
Then again, why would you want to talk to the person next to you on the tube? What are the chances of them being interesting or relevant to you? Technology has brought the barrier of geographical boundaries to the ground, creating a fourth dimension of communication which enables us to connect with anyone in the world at any time, so what are the chances that the person who happens to be next to you would actually be your first choice for conversation?
Just another part of communication’s evolution?
So maybe, we don’t really need to get people socialising again? Perhaps this advancement is just another natural part of the evolution of communication, with society adapting to technology in the same way it did when the telephone came into the mainstream a century ago.
As with the invention of the telephone, the key thing is that the focus of technology and product design should be connecting us with people who share our passions, hobbies and interests to enhance our social interactions. We already use technology to connect with people that would otherwise be out of reach, whether it is a Skype call with a family member or a Twitter debate with an industry leader, but how can it go a step further?
The use of high quality sound, video, haptics and visuals is already increasing in communication technology, yet with augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality technology now emerging, technology is creating a more immersive, textual experience for communication.
The future of communication? Focus
Communication that is grounded in genuine relevance and interest will always outweigh the joy or satisfaction gained from a random interaction with a stranger. Of course, variety in communication is interesting – but focus will get you further.
Today, consumers are faced with too many choices. We need to be able to filter relevance in all aspects of life. Digital is the perfect mechanism to achieve this focus.
The real question isn’t about how technology can help us communicate with the person standing next to us, but how we can use it to serve us with an experience so real that it feels like I’m in the same place as any single person in the world, while doing something as mundane as moving from one physical location to another.
It is the job of innovative businesses to keep experimenting and improving technology to find the solutions to this problem. It could be one of the UK’s many pioneering businesses today that finds the answer.
Jacob Beckett is the head of Vitamin London, a digital innovation studio who partner with ambitious companies to build human solutions. The studio helps clients ranging from start-ups to large organisations with a vast array of work, from apps to e-commerce.