Domhnaill Hernon from Nokia Bell Labs vents his frustration at the unsolved problems of human communication.
I am frustrated with the way we are forced to communicate and interact today using modern technology.
Think about this in the context of how we communicate:
- Our traditional spoken and written word is limited in its ability to share higher-dimensional aspects such as emotions and sentiment.
- We have further degraded our ability to communicate with the use of 140 characters of text accompanied by emojis. Adding a sad face to a text message doesn’t convey the complexity of my true emotional state.
- We are forced to use too many siloed and inefficient communication tools that waste time, and the smartphone has become a junkyard for apps.
Have you ever wondered why so many barriers exist between people, race, culture, religion and politics?
‘Why didn’t we consider and design out the concept of digital loneliness in advance of the proliferation of online social networks?’
Considering we put people on the moon almost 50 years ago, I posit that we can break down some of these barriers with a new approach to how we communicate.
Here are my four reasons why the way we communicate today is broken.
1. Limitations in speech and text
The spoken and written word are limited with respect to sharing emotions and sentiment and, therefore, barriers exist between people.
Do you know that in the human species there is no difference in race? There is technically one human race with differences in ethnicity. Do you realise that we are all the same – we all have the same biology, physiology and psychology (excluding a tiny fraction of people that are outliers).
With that, do you ever wonder why so many barriers exist between people, cultures, religions and politics?
I believe that one of the key reasons these barriers exist is our emotionally limited modes of communication using the spoken and written word.
2. Replacing the physical for the digital is causing unforeseen tensions
We have replaced our physical social networks for digital ones and this digital existence has become prevalent without considering the tensions that arise.
We have never been as connected from a global perspective, because of the proliferation of communications technology. Yet we have never been so disconnected from a human existence perspective, owing to the proliferation of virtual shares, likes and friends online.
Why didn’t we consider and design out the concept of digital loneliness in advance of the proliferation of online social networks? What happens when we become even more virtual via AR and VR, and what future tensions will arise between the interplay of the physical and the digital?
3. Smartphones have become a dumping ground
The way we communicate today is broken.
The iPhone is 10 years old. When it first emerged, it was a timesaver as it provided connectivity on the go and reduced the requirement for having multiple different devices. However, in the decade since, we have done nothing more than dump more and more junk into the smartphone and thus created a vast time sink.
Think of all the different ways you are forced to communicate with other humans today. Each of you probably has more than 10 different communication apps or tools such as work email, personal email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, varied instant messaging tools, Slack, Yammer, etc, etc.
‘Using the same modes of communication as those developed 10-plus years ago is the equivalent of using an abacus to do accounting’
Now consider what happens when your smart home or smart office of the future has hundreds of sensors that come online and need to be communicated with. Will you have to add another 100 apps or more to your smartphone to be able to control all the devices? This is not scalable and introduces vast inefficiency. There must be a more human-centered technological approach to solve this growing human need.
But why are we still employing the same modes of communication as those developed 10-plus years ago? It doesn’t make sense. It is the equivalent of using an abacus to do accounting!
And, therefore, we get to my last point.
4. We waste time
Think about how much time you waste going in and out of many different communication apps and tools. In an enterprise setting, think about how much time you waste logging into different systems and tools, forgetting passwords and forgetting how to navigate the peculiarities of that system.
This is a waste of time on a gargantuan scale. Multiply your personal and professional time wasted across all of humanity and you will come up with a staggering number.
Life is too short to waste so much time and it is frustrating when there could be better approaches.
Finding a better way
In conclusion, we must question if our current modes of written and spoken word are the best approaches to build deeper connections between all people across the globe.
We must question why so many barriers exist between people, and we should explore new modes of interaction and communication to break down these barriers.
We should question if our current spoken and written word is the cause of these barriers – or at least partially the cause.
We shouldn’t be blind to the tensions that exist between the physical and the digital, and that may arise through our modes of communication and our use of technology.
Domhnaill Hernon is head of Experiments in Arts and Technology (EAT) at Nokia Bell Labs. He was previously responsible for turning Bell Labs research assets into proto-solutions that could be tested at scale in the market and he pioneered new methods to overcome the Innovation Valley of Death. He is currently responsible for Bell Labs’ global activities in EAT where he collaborates with the creative community to push the limits of technology to solve the greatest human-need challenges.