Posted by: kwbrand | August 30, 2010

Communication Technologies Catch Up(?)


I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine. After over 18 years, we saw each other at a mutual friend’s wedding. In the course of our update-each-other conversation, I learned that he had parlayed his many skills into a position as IT director at a prominent university. He’s what most of us would refer to as the “tech guy” on campus. I found this interesting because he was always really smart, but when we’d known each other, technology wasn’t what it is now; hell, the internet hadn’t even arrived to the college which we’d attended. I brought a typewriter to school my first year.

In those intervening 18-odd years, of course, technology and technology-facilitated communication has taken the world by storm. We used to have a phone whose long cord was always hopelessly tangled. The only phone with a cord my children are likely to experience is the Fisher Price phone that also has eyes that open and close when it’s pulled along by a string. We used to pass notes in high school. Do they still do that? My nephew isn’t supposed to (but totally does) text during his high school hours. When was the last time you sat down and handwrote a letter and then mailed it? Now most of my correspondence happens through email or through FaceBook. I’m told that email is considered too slow by many modern high school students who are exclusively available via text.

Occasionally old folks like me will sit around and tsk our tongues at the new-fangled technologies. Damn kids and their music and their cell phones and all that. Back in our day, we had to look each other in the eye. Back in our day, we had to talk to each other even as we walked uphill in the snow for six miles (both ways). We oldies sit around and gloomily wonder if communication technologies have outpaced our ability to meaningfully relate.

But there was something my long lost, techno friend said during that wedding weekend that really stuck with me. It was this: he believes that technology is getting very close to catching up with humanity. He said that in his view, we’ve always had to retro-fit our communications into awkward technologies and as a result, we were always simultaneously focused on the technologies and their limitations even as we tried to communicate with and through them. Our communication was always limited as we were forced to attend to the clunkiness of the medium and work around its deficiencies. Now, however, as he experiments with educational technology in a higher educational setting, he said, technology might be approaching the point where it can catch up with the way people really communicate, with the way people absorb and relay information. Technology, he said, might soon be advanced enough to fade into the background and simply be the tool it’s been intended to be for us all this time. Here’s a tech guy who’s really a people-person with tech skills.

And he might be right. My smart phone is way smarter than I. It anticipates my moves with uncanny insight. I’ve had it for about a week and frankly, I’m still a little creeped out. I find myself asking it (yes, I talk to it) How did you know I was about to end that call? How do you always know where I am? Can the guys at Google Maps see me naked? Soon, I’m sure; I’ll get used to my phone’s genius and simply let it help me.

But what I’d like to pose to you is this: Where does that leave marketing? Will marketing communication technologies open avenues that allow us to communicate with one another in a way that facilitates greater relationship? How will our humanity shine through as the technology takes its place under our feet? What will that look like? Are there organizations that have effectively harnessed their technology so that it fades to the background and ceases to limit real human connectivity? What did they do and what results have they seen?

 Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

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