ICT Services: Further isolating or connecting us?

connecting-peopleI’ve sometimes heard people claim that all the new technology and services now available, actually separate us from our family, friends and close contacts, more than before.

The thinking behind this idea is that prior to widespread use of phones and Internet, we would interact with our closest relations face-to-face. However, with all the ICT capabilities that now exist, we may prefer to communicate indirectly and/or at a distance, creating more separation.

I believe that the opposite is true.

As humans, we have an innate need for direct, social contact. This facilitates empathy, allowing us to see how others really feel so we can truly understand them and relate better, and vice versa. This basic human characteristic drives our need to maintain personal, face-to-face contact with our closest family, friends and confidants. This is partly why we have regular family dinners, visits with our grand parents or meet up regularly with our closest friends.

I also believe that modern communication capabilities – including e-mail, texting, IM, video-calls, conferencing, blogs, and social networking services –  actually help us enhance relations with our inner circles, as well as with those further out.  These tools give us more possibilities and choices for communicating with people in different ways, depending on the context.

The following figure (taken from a US Pew Internet’s study on Social Isolation and New Technology) shows that while face-to-face contact remains the primary method for nurturing our closest personal relationships (those living in the same home), we also use other means depending on their distance to us.

Pew_Contact-by-ICT-Medium Furthermore, while not shown explicitly, I also think that the associated cost of staying  in contact (i.e. time, energy, money) partly determines the media used.

The same ideas can be applied to business relations, where important discussions and meetings are often held face-to-face to establish empathy and trust between people, but less critical relations and contact can be maintained with less direct ways, and/or at distance.

This has various implications for providers of ICT services:

  1. New ICT services may not necessarily substitute previous one; instead they may end up complementing them.
    -> Think about how we use mobile calls and text messages together, but in slightly different ways.
    -> Consider how in the workplace, we might exchange ideas with colleagues by e-mail, then collaborate on documents using adapted tools, and finally meet-up in person to effectively present and discuss the topic at hand with others.
  2. An effective ICT service offer is one that satisfies a certain set of user needs, while covering a full range of usage contexts.
    This implies offering a broad range of communication and collaboration options, within a common offer. With such an offer, the user ultimately decides the method for communicating, exchanging or working with others, depending on a situation or context.
    -> Unified Communications exemplify this, through the integration of voice, e-mail, IM, messaging, and conferencing services, where users choose the most adapted way to interact with others, and can change on-the-fly.
  3. To deliver a high value proposition, service providers must satisfy a full set of user needs with the best overall user experience, in the simplest way.
    A compelling ICT offer might include i) a full range of complementary services, functionally integrated with one another, ii) exhibiting high, overall ease-of-use, iii) all linked to common resources (ex. contact list, media library), and iv) offered for a set, simple pricing scheme. This encourages the usage of the most adapted services, according the user’s context.
    -> Orange’s Origami mobile service offers allow users to benefit from a mix of calling, messaging and Web communication capabilities – both metered and unlimited -, on-the-go, and paid for from a single, set monthly fee ‘bucket’.

In the end, as people, we want the simplest and most adapted way to communicate, depending on a given context, which can change from one place or moment to another.

(Finally, if you are not convinced, think about the very fact that you are reading this blog post. If you are still not convinced, call me and we’ll talk about over a coffee. 🙂 )

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