Communication and ability to tell the stories is the cornerstone of our civilisation.

The Future of Communication

Do you remember when your grandma or parents were telling the stories and everyone in the room was listening holding its breath? I do. I really loved to be transported by stories to other worlds. 30 years later, my 7 years old daughter is thriving for the same. Her favourite tales is to travel to distant planets and we role-play fantastic stories which happen into space. Could be everything from the “Planet of cheese” to the “Planet of happy green birds” or even Melmac from Alf series, you name it. I truly believe that human imagination is infinite and we didn’t find a way to fully unleash it yet (art is probably the closest one). Of course, the most important ability to share our imagination is to communicate and pass those ideas and stories to others. Without communication, there is no story – no matter how smart and imaginative you are.

Sidenote: This article was actually meant to be about the future of education but then I thought about it more trying to create a structure I understood how wrong I was. We need first to talk about the ways how we communicate. Because of communication and understanding between the people comes further education. To talk about the future of education we need to raise the questions about how we will be communicating in the future.

What differs us from the animals is that we have perfected the way of communicating with each other. When animals language is quite basic and they can perform simple actions together like looking for food, hunting, mating etc. our species pushed it to a whole next level. Developing a language(s) and writing(s) was the cornerstone of our civilisation. It also enabled us to think abstractly which at the end lead to science, art and all of our inventions. It also helped us to cooperate on difficult tasks and to store our memories and findings for future generations. How important is to be able to communicate I realized recently when I moved to Germany. My German is on a basic level and when talking to Germans I feel like I lost my personality. I’m a highly social person (remember Bar+Tek?). and when I need to participate in the discussion in German I feel like a lost all my knowledge, wits and worse of all – a sense of humour. Of course, I can communicate on simple tasks and my body language helps but it’s just difficult.
The level we are able to communicate with other people and our ability to formulate thoughts actually define us as a person. This is a strange feeling and if you travel a lot you know what I’m talking about. But it’s quite an interesting observation for me.
Now.. let’s think where we are in 21 century. We use the internet on a daily basis to reach an enormous number of people through social channels. We sent dozens of e-mails daily. The mobile phone is our closest friend, and we actually feel insecure when we leave it at home (for my info on that read my article on smartphone evolution). We text, we use emoticons (and Emoji) to send our emotions to people we are having a conversation with. We also found out that sharing funny and short videos could be fun… All great – but I think we just reach our limits in terms of 2D space communication, and the next level of communication is coming: the one in Extended Reality. But first let’s take a closer look at the most advanced (and common) way of communication: video calls.

The level we are able to communicate with other people and our ability to formulate thoughts actually define us as a person.

Video calls

This is the best solution and tech we have so far to communicate with other people on the distance. I also guess many of you guys hate this, and I’m not surprised. There are a lot of studies proving why. I knew that video calls are not perfect but when I did my research, I was astonished on how many levels of video chats are bad for our communication and wellbeing. It seems in some cases, it’s better to use a regular phone to achieve something than set up another video conference. It really made me think that we are using technology without giving it a deeper thought. “Because everyone is using it, I will use it too”. Ok, so what are the problems of video calls:

  1. Distraction – When we talk with more than one person our brain just can’t process it. It is so different than having a regular conversation with a group of people. We are distracted by actions people take since we see our interlocutors in small windows and we are trying to pay attention to all of them at the same time when in reality our eye can focus only on a small segment of the screen. General rule – the more people – the bigger distraction. When you watch the video below – it really nailed it.
  2. Lack of interest – This is quite a serious one. Studies revealed that only 1200 ms (1.2 sec) of delay causes us thinking that person we are having a conversation with, seems not to be interested in what we have to say. This is really a problem since 1.2 sec (and more) is the usual delay in most video conferencing.
  3. Dishonesty – How many of you look at the camera? I know I try but it’s difficult. The person we are talking to is displayed bellow the camera and we subconsciously look at the face of our interlocutor – not the camera(!). I even put smiley face near to the camera, but honestly – it’s not helping at all. I still tend to look down and must admit I should be better at it since I have a lot of video chats, but it’s hard to train not to watch at the face of another person when talking to it. As a result, we are being perceived as dishonest and as we are hiding something.
  4. You’re being watched – When you talk with someone, especially to a group of people – the feeling of being watched is sometimes which could be overwhelming. Especially for people with no stage experience – it could be a problem.
  5. You don’t like to look at yourself – Very few people are fine with the way they look. Even if you’re trained – it’s very common that you constantly look at yourself, make micro-gestures correcting the hair, touching the mouth. On top of that, it makes you look insecure.
  6. It’s hard to get attention – When you speak with more than the person and you need to say something in the middle of a conversation – it’s really hard to get attention of other people. Due to lag and inability to see body language correctly, it’s difficult to make a fluid conversation. It’s either awkward pauses or interruptions or you’re too late, or you all talking together.
  7. Tech problems – I’m often addressing this – that we are talking on the future of communication, new ways of connecting, XR, but in reality, we didn’t develop video calls to a decent level. Still, most of the solutions we have on the market suffer from tech problems. Not only software but the infrastructure is not steady.
  8. It’s exhausting! All these problems sum up and after a long video conversation, we feel totally exhausted and drained from energy. We don’t know why – but when you realize how difficult this is to our brain to process all the mixed signals and overcome problems – now you understand. Our brain is constantly analysing what you see and on every step is having a barrier to overcome.

This video sums it all up in a perfect way:

The future of communication

When we think ahead 5-10 years we will spend more and more time using different tools to communicate on distances. (I believe to our kids it could be as normal as talking face to face with another person in reality). There are a couple of reasons for that:

  1. Pandemics: Most of the scientists and bright people are saying that COVID19 will stay with us for years, and we need to deal with it. Whatever is your wishful thinking – the world we know won’t be the same.
  2. Global warming: we need to put more effort to reduce CO2 emission. It’s already a disaster. We need to travel less for long flight distances.
  3. Temperature, Pollution: it’s connected to the one above. Year by year the temperatures and pollution are rising and soon we won’t be able to travel as easy and comfortable as we could.

Firms like Facebook, HTC, Microsoft understand all that and they are working to develop the next tools for communication. I think – right now Facebook is taking the lead in this area. If you would like to check how far we are in this development please read my article on Deepfakes. The results are impressive and scary at the same time.

There are a lot of solutions and apps to chat on distance using VR like fantastic RecRoom, Bigscreen VR or Glue giving the people the ability to meet, talk, watch movies and having fun with each other. Of course – this is just first step since technology is not there yet – we need to use cartoonish avatars, we lack facial expressions, but even now – with very basic graphics it’s surprisingly fun and engaging and there are reasons for that:

  • Being in the same space – the most important reason is that we are all in the same space. It’s not 2D screen anymore divided by video rectangles. We are being there and see each other simply moving our head as in the real-life
  • Gestures – Let’s not underestimate the power of gestures. Even now, when the graphic is poor and childish we are able to read emotions simply looking on our friend’s hands. Who played the RecRoom knows what I’m talking about, from the excitement to sadness – lot’s can be express simply moving our hands. Look at the trailer bellow.
  • It’s the closes you can get to reality – You can’t see yourself, you don’t have a feeling of “being watched” so some downsides of videoconferencing just disappear.

AI and 5G = global village

If we combine XR with the use of AI and super-fast connection like 5G (and faster) we will be able to translate our voice on the fly and communicate without any barriers. Think of possibilities. Humanity can be united in the layer of communication (at the least the rich part of the world). Of course, there will be still cultural differences but it will be the first time in history when the people will be able to communicate with anyone on the globe. Is it not exciting? Of course – I’m not saying that we are ready to switch to XR today since there is still a lot of downsides but I do believe this is a future of our communication. We will overcome those problems with time and till the mid of the century, it will become the global way of communicating.

Shaping our reality

We need also to understand that our perception of reality is shaped by the news and media. As we speak – the US banned Chinese TikTok from the country. The governments know that who is handling the channels and reach to the masses can create reality. We don’t need to go as far as Extended Reality to understand this. It’s happening already. Social channels like Twitter and Facebook are able to influence our democracy and our choices (I wrote about it in Deepfakes post). There is an urgent need to deal with it before we go into the next level of communicating. Consider the fact that in virtual space everything is virtual and everything is possible. So whoever will be able to shape it – will be the King of the (virtual) world.

I can’t say how our world will look like in 10-20 years but for sure it will be different than the one we live now in 2020. And it’s very important to talk about the new ways of communication since they will define the reality we will be living in the future.

PS’ My next article on the future of education follows soon. Stay tuned.

Written by
Bartek Rozbicki
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