What If We Reversed The Order of Technology Adoption?

Most likely you own two connected devices. Actually, according to Forrester Research, one third of the US under the age of 50 owns three or more. And with each passing year these connected devices are growing in adoption and use. New devices are not necessarily forecast to replace each other but rather to add on to your technology portfolio. Which makes sense. For now, it’s hard to imagine creating a robust Excel spreadsheet on a tablet or phone.

So what are we doing with this technology? First we’re texting. Research says that most of us send between 500 – 800 texts per month with teens sending over 2,500 per month.

We are also reminded by the widely-respected Mary Meeker that we’re getting our music, our information, and our updates through the phone at an amazingly increasing rate:

It’s also very interesting to learn that 85% of the world’s population is now covered by commercial wireless signals, providing greater reach than the electrical grid, which rests at 80%.

Mobile is efficient.

But next time you’re at the airport, mall or other public place take note on how many people are using the phone versus how many people are on the phone.

On average wireless customers use 450 minutes per month, a decline of 77 minutes just two years ago. And if each text, call or email is counted as an “interaction” then 80% of interactions with our phone is non-voice related.

Furthermore, when we do talk on the phone these days we’re talking less. The average length of a phone call in 2008 was about two-and-a-half minutes. Today, it’s thought to be around 90 seconds.

Did we all of the sudden develop a resistance to speaking to other people?

Not really. (Although everyone can support and be thankful that we can communicate in multiple ways rather than just default to the telephone.)

What probably explains it best is something Clay Shirky wrote in Cognitive Surplus about technology adoption and age:

“1. everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2. anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3. anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

But what if the technology was reversed?

It’s helpful to think this way sometimes.When you do, perhaps it changes perception.

What if we started off with texting and data and online networking capabilities and then all of the sudden one day we could actually call people. We could talk to our friends as they we’re enjoying some far off land. We could hear them laugh on the other side of the country. We could catch up on old stories without having to type everything.

Anthony Tjan had a good post on HBR recently where he talked about how important it is to sometimes pick up the phone…

“The bigger need is for more live conversations to occur, period. This is especially true when people are trying to resolve a conflict or communicate an important business decision. There is a rising and unproductive trend towards people trying to do digital conflict resolution. The de facto path for issue resolution seems to be increasingly via email. More accurately, email has become a convenient mechanism for issue-avoidance.”

To help with this it’s important not to confuse media with interpersonal communication.

Our mobile devices are becoming more about media which, because that’s so cool, applies a hit on interpersonal communication, such as phone calls.

Back to Cognitive Surplus:

“Media is how you know when and where your friend’s birthday party is. Media is how you know what’s happening in Tehran, who’s in charge in Tegucigalpa, or the price of tea in China. Media is how you know why Kierkegaard disagreed with Hegel. Media is how you know when your next meeting is. Media is how you know about anything more than ten yards away.”

Our devices provide us both media and interpersonal communication abilities. But technology will continue to build the bicep of media much more than the tricep of interpersonal communication. So it’s up to us to keep the latter as strong as the former.

If cellular voice calling had just been invented I have a hunch we’d be talking more. Perhaps we might even avoid some issues, speed up decision making and get to know each other a little bit better.


[originally posted on Campaign Planning ]
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