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The future of mobile: contact without communication

Posted by Alex Warren on 3rd February 2014

With MWC fast approaching, tech enthusiasts everywhere are waiting with bated breath to discover what life-changing opportunities the next generation of shiny plastic rectangles will hold for humanity. As with every technology before them, next-gen mobiles are going to get faster, thinner, and – inevitably – solve all the world’s problems.

Ok, maybe that’s a little optimistic. Still, it genuinely amazes me the level of utopian adoration that people hold towards their phones. On average, people spend more hours a day with their mobiles than they do in the company of their loved ones. We just can’t seem to help ourselves. We happily sit for hours, staring at them, stroking them, responding to their cries; we even get anxious if they’re not around. Anyone would think we were in love!

In amongst this frenzied reverence, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of assuming mobile phones can do no wrong. However, we must be careful to remember that every advancement comes at the expense of its predecessor. You can’t produce MP3s while still expecting CDs to thrive. You can’t promote Nexflix without seeing a decline in DVD sales. Most important of all though, you can’t encourage mediated communication without incurring a decline in its non-mediated alternative… conversation.

While mobiles started as a mere catalyst to social interaction, they are now beginning to resemble something far closer to its alternative. Where once we used our phones to organise real-world meetings and events, they now provide an anti-social retreat in which to bury ourselves; a friendly alternative to making eye contact on the tube.

As we become increasingly accustomed to the presence of our phones, we also grow ever more comfortable with the concept of mediated interaction. When once we would have enjoyed sharing things face to face, we are increasingly convinced that a simple text message will suffice. As a result, when texting our families to announce a new job, we are no longer witness to their spontaneous reactions. That privilege now belongs to our phones.

It is that spontaneity which could be lost by mediated communication. Through the ability to edit and reconsider our responses, we convert our genuine reactions into carefully crafted mirrors of our true selves. We rewrite and reword our replies until the end result exactly reflects what we are trying to convey. The only problem with this approach is that it may not accurately reflect how we genuinely felt at the time.

This is an issue that goes to the very heart of mediated interaction, but is one that current technology is yet to fully address. While advancements in video communication and 3D interaction are helping to reduce this disconnect, it may be several years before we fully escape the downfalls of mediated content.

Until this time comes, we should be careful not to confuse constant contact with genuine communication. We must try to remember that interacting in real time is not necessarily the same as interacting in real life. Without accounting for factors such as human spontaneity, digital communication will continue to fail in its attempts to emulate the real world. Why? Because the real world doesn’t have a backspace.

Alex Warren

Alex Warren is an expert in AI and marketing technologies. He has published two books, Spin Machines, and Technoutopia and is regularly quoted in PR, marketing and technology media. In his role as a Senior Account Director at Wildfire he helps tech brands build creative strategies that deliver results and cut through the marketing BS.