I Changing Role of Communication in the 21st Century

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How many times have you been out to dinner or other social function talking with people only to have them abruptly stop the conversation to answer their mobile or to respond to some form of text or email? How many times have you been in a meeting and experienced the entire meeting being momentarily disrupted by a phone call, even if you or the other person didn’t actually answer it? Just the other night I got and deserved a lashing when I picked up my mobile to check email while waiting for dinner to arrive.

Are the new modes of communication and social networks available to us making us more anti-social and rude? Today we have the choice of voice, video, text, instant message, social networks, gaming networks, Skype, Google Voice, voice enabled Twitter and Facebook etc. These choices and the advances in mobile communication devices are responsible for this communication paradigm shift. The ability to take all this communication with you has changed us as much, or more, than the communication applications themselves. The way we treat or interact with one another socially has forever changed.

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Is that by choice or due to the current state of communication tools? Once upon a time, face to face or by phone were our primary modes of communication. The person(s) communicating would more naturally be paying full attention to those in their presence or on the phone. Today, many prefer to text or email a person rather than call them. Why is that? I’ve talked to friends, family (e. g. my kids), thought about my own habits, and monitored social network communications discussing it. It could be the desire to “control” the time spent in or dedicating attention to the conversation.

You don’t have to gracefully hang up or walk away from the person to terminate or interrupt the conversation. The communication is less dedicated, allowing for gaps or pauses in the interaction. Texting, email, and social network communications appear to be taking priority over communicating with those in our presence. A common cited reason for it is the “need” to communicate with and respond to anyone trying to contact you “instantly”. Whatever happened to the “I’ll get back to you later” mentality? Is the “need” to multi-task the real driver behind this behavior change?

Many have discussed information overload, and social network addiction. The well known quote by Clay Shirkey, “it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”, applies but may not be enough. The communication and information is so readily available to us, wherever we are, that we just can’t tear ourselves away from watching and responding. No amount of data or communication filtering can change this behavior if it fundamentally doesn’t want to be changed. With all the tweeting and blogging I see about information overload, stress and anxiety, there are clear signs that we want it to change.

Communication systems need to evolve further to offer filtering and other forms of control. I’ve written before about consolidation of our identities, a unified communications dashboard and “agent” that can do this filtering. A couple of capabilities of a communication system that could help me be less rude and take control over interruptions include; 1. Advanced and automatic presence detection. Why not use the videocam most PC’s have, or emerging video phones, for detecting if I am in my office alone or not? If I’m not, don’t ring my phone at all!

Don’t route calls, text or other alerts to me unless the source and content meet my filter criteria (e. g. from home containing urgent as a keyword). I need something automatic to set my presence. I don’t want to have to remember to “set” my presence. It could be motion detection, RFID or similar technology. Automatic “presence” detection when you are carrying only your mobile is another issue to solve. 2. Integration with calendar to detect when I’m in a meeting or other form of in-person engagement. A “do not disturb” flag in our calendars that’s more refined than the simple “busy”.

This is another form of automated presence detection for use in controlling the communication. It can be used to automatically suspend calls, alerts, texts, tweets etc to my device, especially mobiles, unless they meet my criteria. To implement this requires more standardization of how calendar entries are represented so presence and other relevant data about the engagement or call can be extracted. Do you feel the impact and change brought on by 21st century communications? Do you feel more rude, interrupted and less focused? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it and ideas on how to address it.

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