The resurgence of verbal communication is the natural next step in the evolution of our language

"Google Plus Live Streamed Video Hangout" by stevegarfield on Flickr

A great guest post on Convince and Convert yesterday got me thinking about language and the future of communication. As Tim Hayden said in “Voice Computing Puts the Words Back in Your Mouth”:

The evidence is all around us that voice and face-to-face communication are the natural, preferred ways for us to communicate. I can all but guarantee that this shift back to a more “human” way of communication will surely disrupt social media and everything we know today about marketing…faster than we can plan around it.

As Tim’s post implies, written language has always been a substitute for our “natural, preferred” method–verbal communication–and usually a poor substitute at that. When we write, we are simply transcribing that which we would say, if we could. The evolution of our language has included writing simply to make communication possible when we can’t communicate verbally, face to face.

Consider these (overly simplified) major milestones in human communication:

  • We started with grunting and gestures
  • Since grunting and gestures required face-to-face interaction, we developed a basic written language (cave painting, for example) to allow for asynchronous communication
  • Our written language grew more complex to allow for more clarity and depth
  • The Gutenberg press accelerated the growth of written language, making it accessible to a wider audience, which in turn nurtured more writers
  • Then there was the first major innovation in verbal, synchronous communication: the telephone. Think of it: before the phone, it was impossible to communicate with someone in real time unless you were in the same room. Then…
  • The rise of email brought the written word back to prominence, allowing for communication to travel at an unprecedented scale and speed, and finally…
  • Social media has broken down even more barriers by giving everyone the ability to send a message to, and receive a message from, anyone in the world–or everyone in the world.

The length of time between these milestones continues to shrink. It took thousands of years to move from grunting to cave painting and from cave painting to more sophisticated written language, hundreds of years to move from character-based written language to mass-produced writing with the Gutenberg press and from Gutenberg to the phone, decades to move from the phone to email, and less than a decade to move from email to social. Now, things are changing once again.

Today, technology is moving away from written communication and toward verbal communication because it is the natural next step in the evolution of our language. Our species has always looked for ways to make communication more efficient and more effective. We were willing to compromise when needed (i.e. to sacrifice quality in order to allow for asynchronous communication), but we have never settled. We preferred written communication not because it was necessarily better, but because it allowed for things–asynchronous communication, for example–that were otherwise impossible.

Communication is changing because it has always been changing. Those changes are just happening more quickly than ever before. So, if you’re looking for the next big thing in communication, technology, social media, and marketing, look toward anything that makes language dissemination or consumption easier and that facilitates the method we’ve always preferred: synchronous, verbal communication.

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