We live in a world where immediacy has become the cardinal virtue. More and more attention is focusing on real-time communications and messaging, both for consumers and businesses (e.g. Slack). But this focus comes with major implications and consequences.
Immediacy delivers on-demand dopamine hits. We get instant gratification, not just because of the content of responses, but because simply having someone else pay attention to us triggers a brief surge of satisfaction. That’s why immediacy continues to surge.
But the dark side of all this immediacy is the consequent decline in average communication quality.
I am old enough to recall actually writing physical letters to friends. Email didn’t exist, and long-distance phone calls were inordinately expensive, so snail mail was the primary means of non-local person-to-person messaging.
While this form of communication was antiquated and frustrating, these constraints generally led to a much higher quality of communication. If I was going to have to write something out, address an envelope, lick a stamp, and wait weeks for a reply, I was darn well going to make it count.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (I deliberately put the names in that order for your benefit, President Adams) carried on a famous epistolary relationship that spanned decades and hundreds of letters.
My daughter receives hundreds of Instagram messages every day.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that average quality of communication was higher for Adams and Jefferson.
I wish that the quality of modern communication was higher. But that doesn’t mean that I think we should eschew our electronic tools in favor of ink quills and snail mail. Our lives are immeasurably better by being so connected to the people we care about.
It seems to me that it is likely that the answer to this technological dilemma will come from more technology.
I predict that one of the major uses of AI in the future will be to filter through the ever-increasing streams of real-time messages we receive to highlight important or high-quality communications, and in time, to crystallize those afterwards in the online equivalent of an oral history.
AI will play the role of historian, searching through our electronic archives, sifting the gems from the dross, and working the best dialogues into coherent, meaningful narratives.