How we will communicate in the future
“We can speculate on how digitization is changing the way we go shopping, researching or going out tomorrow, but those who do not always end up in the Apocalypse in their conclusions will realize there will be a tomorrow – even if it’s a different one.” With these words, the Süddeutsche Zeitung launched an article that appeared exactly six years ago. 1 “Digital Tomorrow – How We Can Communicate” was the title of the paper devoted to the new ways and means that digitalization made possibile. How has human communication changed in the age of social media and co? And how will we communicate in the future?
The communication of the present
“One can not not communicate” is one of the wise insights of our time, which the Austrian-American communication scientist and philosopher Paul Watzlawick wrote down in his communication theory. 2 He also noted that human communication always uses digital and analogue modalities, meaning that we not only communicate through the spoken word, but also on a non-verbal level (eg through a smile or conscious looking away). In the course of digitization, the concept of digital communication seems to have a new significance in the social interaction of our society: smartphones, social networks and messenger services ensure that interpersonal communication takes place almost exclusively via the digital path. Voice messages instead of calls, group chats instead of joint meetings, likes instead of “real” compliments. The communication of the present is simple, fast and uncomplicated. New communication channels facilitate social interaction and give us more free time in everyday life. At least that’s the idea.
The communicative vicious circle
Instead, the opposite is the case: instead of being less stressed and overwhelmed, we just feel further deprived of our already limited capacity. We want to do so many things at the same time, that we are recording our time twice more and more. While in meetings, we should actually follow what has been said, we clarify under the table in the family chat, what is there for dinner. Most of the time, we only watch movies with the laptop open on our laps, and during meetings with friends, we regularly catch ourselves updating the e-mail inbox. Multitasking may call that the optimist among us. Soberly, it is more about losing one’s ability to concentrate. It is increasingly difficult for us to consciously focus on one task while another ten tabs are open in the back of our brains.
The logical consequence: information is lost or not even perceived. Are we destroying our interpersonal skills permanently by using uncontrolled digital means of communication? We are in the midst of a vicious circle. More specifically, a communicative vicious circle. On the one hand we feel overwhelmed with the possibilities offered, but on the other hand we do not manage to escape all this. What can we do about it? Most of the time, small things help to raise awareness of the problem. Resisting the urge to reach for the smartphone and instead pay full attention to the other, for example.
❞ Are we destroying our interpersonal skills permanently by using uncontrolled digital means of communication? ❝
And what comes next: the communication of the future
Digitization means blessing and cursing for the way we communicate. Because communication is not just the exchange of verbal sounds. Communication goes far beyond that. Anyone who tries to pack the complex system of communication into a 150-character text message will despair of it in the long run. That’s as safe as the fact that having a real and honest conversation is so much more than just exchanging voice messages. Perhaps this kind of return to the emotional level is the reason why the smartphone slowly but noticeably loses its importance. 3
❞ Communication is not just the exchange of verbal sounds. Communication goes far beyond that. ❝
Instead, smart necklaces, AR glasses and brain-computer interfaces are to conquer the market. Whether this solves our problem of overused capacity and the desire for a digital break, remains rather questionable. However, the newest concepts still provide initial approaches to deliberate concentration: smart collars let the gaze wander off the screen, while AR goggles guide him directly there. And even if that does not work, we can be sure of one thing. Communication is constantly changing – even independently of any digitization.
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