”The simple subject of communication threatens to become a complex labyrinth of options, each one of those filled with advantages and disadvantages.Marshall KaveshCEO
Internet and mobile apps constantly confront us with a plethora of new products supposedly created with better communication in mind. Working in a communication-services development company myself, I often find that we should question the nature of “communication”. I would like to share some thoughts, in the hope that these exchanges with you, the reader, will help me to better understand how to improve the quality of these communication services. After all, it’s the industry in which I make a living.
Firstly, I should say what I don’t think communication is. I am no journalist. If someone shares a piece of information publicly or with an undefined group, it is not communication, but simply, a publication. Facebook, Instagram and all those services merely provide a channel for people to publish something.
For me (and I admit I could be completely wrong), communication needs at least two participants and an interaction between them. When I receive information from someone I’ve sent information to, that is communication, just as in the same way communication happens when I respond to someone else’s information.
I initially thought I’d managed to cover the basics with this shrewd definition, only to find myself having a conversation on a website with what I later realised was in fact, a machine. At that very moment I understood that this couldn’t really have been “communication”, as for that, there must be at least two conscious participants. Indeed, our company develops chatbots, so I understood the reason for this distinction all too well…
After identifying the structure of communication as the exchange of information between conscious participants, we can then consider its purpose. Why do we want to communicate? My inner philosopher replies that every one of us is looking for evidence of the existence of other conscious beings and we expect to find them through communication. But that thought might be considered too esoteric for this blog. There is also a practical reason for communication.
Obviously, we all need to communicate with our kind to influence, teach, question, command them and even to exchange ideas, products and, occasionally, even more. Communication has many goals. Nevertheless, it seems to me that all those goals have something in common: communication allows us to compare our subjective ideas with our fellow man, sharing them with other conscious beings and receiving their points of view in exchange. Every participant in a conversation might, therefore, influence the others as well as change their own ideas.
Yet, even if we are happy with the above reflections, we must now ask how communication works or even how it is supposed to work (and this question is the most important one for a company developing software and services to simplify and improve communications). Unfortunately, the most pressing question is also the hardest to answer.
”Obviously, we all need to communicate with our kind to influence, teach, question, command them and even to exchange ideas, products and, occasionally, even more.Marshall KaveshCEO
From a structural analysis, communication takes part between conscious participants through a channel. Some of the best known examples are face-to-face oral communication; spoken exchanges through a telephone or recordings (push-to-talk); visual face-to-face communication or visual exchanges in the form of pictures, videos, paintings, drawings, emojis, etcetera; written communication exchanged through carrier pigeon, postcard, letter, telegram, email, messaging, etcetera. That is just a small piece of the pie. How do these diverse channels differ one from another, why are there so many iterations, and how do we decide on which one is the most suitable option for a certain type of communication?
I believe we settle on the communication channel through at least three criteria:
- Availability of the participants in that channel
- Speed (or latency) of the channel
- Multidimensionality of the channel
Regarding availability, it’s clear that we don’t use a channel where reaching the other participant is impossible. Don’t you want to control who can reach you, and when? Then you need to find the channel that gives you that ability. And, while we are on the subject, do you have an unlisted phone number, a “secret” email address, or a “secret” WhatsApp or Skype account… or do you hire a private assistant responsible for all your communication?
In the case of speed, the sooner is not necessarily always the better. Often you don’t want to receive an answer or even to reply immediately, so you might prefer a slower channel. You write an email and you don’t know when the recipient is going to read it; you don’t know how much time you have to wait before you receive an answer, and, the best part is that you know the other participant is in the same situation as you. Sometimes you would rather have a direct dialog as long as the other participant is willing, so in this case might send an instant message. Every now and then you may even want to force an immediate dialog, so you phone the other person, sometimes even hiding your own number so he can’t know that it’s you.
Regarding multidimensionality or the ‘richness’ of every channel, we all know the reason why sometimes we prefer to write a letter instead of saying something face to face. When we communicate face to face, there’s more than simple words; the expression of our faces, the pitch of our voices, our body language, the proximity between one and the other, the smell of our breath, the blush of our cheeks, the tears… and, once again, that may not necessarily be the best option. Think about how little of ourselves we let people know through an instant message or an email and think about how our own writing can give us away! Or maybe we want to show that special person more about ourselves through a handwritten letter…
The simple subject of communication threatens to become a complex labyrinth of options, each one of those filled with advantages and disadvantages.
In a future blog post, I will try to apply these thoughts to the way that the most popular services are being used today. In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts on the subject. I will be most happy to read them.