How will You Communicate in the Next Decade?

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When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to witness a world where the only distant communication option for most people was using a rotary dial phone. If someone wasn’t home, it was nearly impossible to get in contact.

Can you imagine going on a coast to coast road trip without a cellphone, today?

Simply inconceivable. We have radically changed our lifestyle along the evolutionary path of communication technologies.

To understand the future, let’s look at how we got to where we are today.

We started altruistic

30 years ago, office workers always had a phone on their desk, and they were ready to drop everything they were doing so as not to lose a possibly important call. Frequent calls — interruptions— made it easy to collaborate with others but made it hard to focus.

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Then, 25 years ago, the cell phone became mainstream, and the easiest thing to do was talking to someone. Don’t you remember that time? It was so cool to have a cellphone that most people left the ringtone on, craving to receive a call in public to show the latest and greatest Motorola or Nokia model. Cell Phones had priority over live conversations, and the only real obstacle to communication was the spotty reception caused by a network infrastructure that was still young.

In the cell phone era, people could talk everywhere, which means they could be interrupted everywhere. Still, a situation favorable to fast real-time collaboration and decision making, rather than individual work.

It was cognitively hard to miss phone calls on purpose, and busy people needing focus had a solution: voicemail both on land and cellular lines. The more people were unreachable, the more messages they received, the more time they had to spend processing all the accumulated voicemail, always afraid to hit the storage limit and miss important interactions. You could see voicemail processing as the price people paid for privacy and focus.

15 years ago, towards the end of the cell phone era, SMS and emails became mainstream and people started transitioning many of their communications towards asynchronous channels, thus reducing interruptions and generating more opportunities to focus.

Then, we became a bunch of egoists

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The smartphones followed, constantly offering alternative communication channels. With the unstoppable proliferation of mobile and desktop apps, we slowly and selfishly evolved to the point that asynchronous communication (messaging) took over as the paradigm of choice, making phone calls almost obsolete: only reserved for older generations, urgent matters or time-sensitive interactions.

When we started queuing up messages from multiple channels without being disturbed, we felt much more productive as individuals. However, live conversations — the ones needed to make prompt and tough decisions — became scheduled sessions, slowing down collective decision making and reducing the overall organizational throughput.

And then the paradox

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We slowly matured our ubiquitous asynchronous workflows based on messaging, accompanied by more and more scheduled synchronous conversations leveraging virtual meetings.

Then, hybrid work emerged and people relied on scheduled meetings even more. In fact, all those coffee machine chats became more 1:1 events in your calendar, and now you don’t have time to do your job during work hours.

You block your calendar to focus on solo tasks, then something always comes up and eats into that slot; so, you end up working over time in your home office, while your loved ones are having dinner in the family room.

The technology you embraced as the cure for your poor personal productivity became your worst nightmare. Meetings keep popping up everywhere in your calendar, and they are all “important”. You feel doomed to be your calendar’s slave: stuck in back to back meetings without a moment of rest.

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Extreme selfishness

Today, we became so selfish that people who need our time must invest theirs to send us a “when can we talk?” message and wait for the moment we’ll take a look at the notification stack and decide whether it’s the right time to text that person back with an answer, maybe a “not this week” one.

In this era, calls are perceived as an invasion of the personal sphere, especially by younger generations. Someone’s attention is a very rare resource, and people may secure it almost exclusively by negotiating times and taking on the burden of scheduling meetings.

To achieve our personal goals today, we push conversations out to tomorrow, occupying our calendar with many 30 min events that could have been impromptu calls today, with the clear benefit of accelerating the decision making process, as it happened during the cell phone era.

Is this myopic way of communicating sustainable?

The next 10 years of Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution

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Is there a way to promptly give people the attention they want from you as soon as possible, while still being able to focus?

Sounds like having a cake and eating it too, isn’t it?

Imagine having an assistant in common with a person you need to talk to. The assistant knows what you both are doing at any moment, and can identify on the fly when you are both free to talk about a certain topic with a certain urgency. Then, when appropriate, the assistant says: “you guys should talk to each other about XYZ, now”.

We are approaching a new era in which you can focus and be productive for as long as you need, whenever you want, wherever you prefer, without calendar constraints. At the same time, you will have the conversations that matter as soon as possible, driven by a “Program Manager” AI, in a serendipitous way, without scheduling or texting back and forth to coordinate people’s availability.

The future will bring us back to a time where it was easy and fast to talk to someone and, at the same time, we’ll be able to naturally focus on our priorities without purposely carving out “focus time”. We will transition from being slaves of our schedule to neglecting the calendar for most of the day.

In fact, you will be able to do what you feel you want to do, because the technology will adapt its workflows around you in real time and, when you are not focused doing something that fulfills you and your duties, it proactively suggests the right communication task to maximize the organizational outcome.

Many of us think AI will take over our lives and make us useless. Although that statement might be true for some applications, the next wave of AI-based communication and collaboration services will free us up from daily constraints and will project us towards a world of hyper-productivity where we are back in possession of our life, and will be able to enjoy it to the fullest.

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Dario De Santis

Dario De Santis

Long-termist visionary technology Entrepreneur and Product Leader, with a strong passion for improving people's productivity through innovative solutions.