How technology can help break down wall of silence

By Jacob Beckett

When you travel anywhere on public transport, especially in cities, there is often a comfortable silence. A nice, quiet opportunity take a moment out of your otherwise hectic day and think, or even just switch off briefly. Everybody knows it, and almost everybody seems to respect it.

It has become an understandably ‘unspoken law.’ Talking to the people around us is simply not the done thing – although we will, of course, chat freely to people elsewhere in the world via our digital devices. So, should we be comfortable with a barrier of silence society has collectively put upon human interaction?

Ever since the advent of the smartphone, people are increasingly focusing on their isolated worlds and avoiding the ‘real’ one. It is a phenomenon caused by technology, but could technology also help break down those walls and get people socialising again?

Right now we are at a crossroads. Technology is infiltrating our lives further and in some ways making us more social, yet the technology isn’t advanced enough to break more intimate personal barriers.

But why would you want to talk to the person next to you on the Tube? What are the chances of them being even remotely interesting or relevant? Why should you be constricted by geographical boundaries, when technology has created a fourth dimension of communication that enables us to connect with anyone in the world at any time.

Arguably, this is just an evolution in communication, and we don’t really need to get people socialising again. The focus of product design and technology should be to enhance our social interactions by connecting us with people who do share the same passions, hobbies and interests, and make it feel like the person is really there interacting with us.

We are already starting to use haptics, rich visuals, video, sound and the more emergent AR, VR or mixed reality tech to create a more immersive, textural experience for communication. Even with mainstream technology I can Skype a family member, WhatsApp a group of my closest friends and have a Twitter debate with an industry leader through my phone whilst travelling on the bus, instead of talking to the person next to me.

Relevance and interest will far outweigh the joy or satisfaction I would get from a random interaction with a stranger. Yes variety can be interesting but focus will get you further. Consumers today are faced with too many choices as it is. We need relevance filters in all aspects of life and digital is a perfect mechanism for that.

So the real question would be how can we use tech to serve us with an experience so real that it feels like I’m in the same place as any single person in the world, while doing something as mundane as moving from one physical location to another?

Well, it is the job of innovative businesses to keep experimenting and improving the tech solutions to this problem, and it could be one of the UK’s many pioneering tech SMEs of today that finds the answer.

Jacob Beckett is the head of Vitamin London, a digital innovation studio who partner with companies to build human solutions.