4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
Open, natural and uncontrived. You could repeat this again and again and realize that this is what makes the Internet tick. If you recite the opposite – Closed, unnatural and contrived then you realize that this is the anti-thesis of what the Internet represents. This is why people view with suspicion anything that is closed. it practically begs the question: “Why is it closed?”. It’s like those Nevada LLCs – what are the owners of the LLC hiding. Even though the owners of those LLCs might be legit and have nothing to hide – the fact that you cannot who they are makes people curious what is behind the veil. People view Facebook as a “closed garden” – especially for people who refuse to open a Facebook account to be able to access what’s inside “Facebook’s garden” – the question would be: Why wouldn’t Facebook want to have anyone outside Facebook see what’s on the inside of their social network. There are now about 500 million people inside Facebook but the trend has been from being closed and exclusive to being increasingly open to the point now that the concern of self-appointed Internet police is that Facebook is now too open! How did a social network that started exclusively as a virtual representation of the Harvard Face Book and could only be accesses with a harvard.edu become the de-facto social network of choice around the world? One word – open. Facebook has decided to navigate the unenviable tension between openness and closeness hard thought it may be. Why? Because that is the language of the Internet and if you do not speak it – people start deserting your network and your platform fairly quickly. Natural – we all have a way of doing things that seem to flow and “engineering the user” or making the user jump through many hoops when they could do things (apparently) naturally is probably one of the mortal sins in a user’s experience. We all know that there are default methods of doing things and we immediately sense it when we seem to be doing one more thing or one more step. That’s probably the crux in the argument to have “naturalness” in the way of doing things – listening to your users and asking them whether a particular way of doing things are “natural” for them – one man’s natural might be another person’s unnatural – but in the grand design of things – there should be a least common denominator to what seems to be natural and maybe people can branch off from that. Thinking about that – it shouldn’t probably be the other way around. Imagine a developer or a programmer thinking that the most “natural” thing to do is to type out commands from the command line. Yes, it might be the most “natural” thing to do for a coder but this will be mighty, mighty strange to an ordinary person without any development, coding or programming experience. So what would be “natural”? This is the sort of thing that the Internet is well equipped to answer – a simple prototype of an app or even a demo of a new startup should be be something that should be put immediately in the hands of early adopters and beta users. And the company who is able to hear what is being said, what these early adopters and beta users claim to be “natural” would be well on its way to understanding what would be natural in the long run. Case in point the Wii – who would have thought that something like the bowling game in Wii would be something that can be used by elderly people in their retirement homes as a form of exercise? And this is where we can probably come to the word “contrived”. Our minds would probably invent many, many variations of how elderly people should exercise – it is an act of contrivance to invent such motions and such methods in such and such a situation but when you understand that a bowling movement is a bowling movement and that all you need to do is calibrate a Wii so that it can sense how close it is to the natural motion of a bowler’s swing and that this is what a Wii’s killer application would be – then you understand a little bit what “naturalness” can do for and how removing contrivances can actually help you in the long run. We know also in the balance of things that we deliver information that not a lot of people would agree and if sometimes you get the majority – you realize that there is always this vociferous minority that you need to contend with. But that’s “normal” and when we take it all in stride and not take it too seriously and consider it all in good fun then we realize, while we’re joking at it, that this is what humans do and that a machine would be hard pressed to duplicate. Of course, the corollary is true – if you’re human and actually sense your humor aren’t you in all practical sense just mimicking an automaton?
5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
You’ve probably experienced or heard about this game – you’re grouped together with other people and then you are given a secret “sound” that you recognize is the group sound and then all of you are blindfolded and then randomly scattered across the room together with several groups and only one person in your group can utter that word and the game is who would be the fastest group to be able to congregate together. There is some wisdom in this game that even echoes what Scripture teaches us – that the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd and follow it wherever it leads them. We either lead or we follow. When we lead – who will follow us? It would be probably people who know what we are talking about and trust us that wherever we are leading them is a better place. If we follow, we follow what is familiar with us or even if we sense that we are on our way to becoming a stranger in a strange land at least we can take comfort in the familiarity of that voice. It would be a rare situation indeed when we follow a strange voice or even a stranger unless our tolerance of discomfort has increased. This comfort of familiarity sometimes lulls people into doing things that they don’t really think hard about and might be something that companies want to happen to people – when we are familiar, we seldom question which is probably why Socrates admonished us about making our life worth living by examining it once in a while. Absent this familiarity, how can we navigate the world? Even our internal voice that speaks to use when we are questioning ourselves or even our decisions sounds familiar – it probably is in our own voice or maybe something that’s not strange for us. How would we feel when we are in a situation that badly needs some decision-making when suddenly the voice that is inside of us speaks in an unfamiliar and strange voice? Wouldn’t that take us aback? But is it impossible? It might not have happened to you but now that you’ve thought about it – maybe your mind can think of a situation that this is possible. Just thinking about that possibility – of listening to our own thoughts in another person’s voice or a voice that’s unfamiliar to us probably made you uncomfortable? But why? Because we are creatures of familiarity and we choose to move in circles, in groups, in organizations, in situations that increase its familiarity to us. Sometimes, we do this to the point that we contempt for it but when we do jump out of our comfort zones, we slowly but gradually surrender to the siren of familiarity. And this is how we recognize each other – we look for cues that tell us that something that is in front of us is something that we’ve encountered before. And even though the Black Swan Theory tells you that there is nothing in this world that should make you think that what happened yesterday or in the last twenty years later will happen today – we act as if that this is the most natural thing to expect – that what is familiar, what we’ve been accustomed to experiencing is what we should come to expect. And what a jolt it will be when companies realize that when they do not speak in the language of the familiar that people will find another shepherd and choose to be sheep for another.
6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
i remember reading how people, who would be stationed in far-flung place during the last century, would mail their friends back in the United States and the United Kingdom and they would actually be waiting for some sort of response for six months and write about it in journals as if holding a train of thought for more than six months was the most natural thing to do. Why would people do that? I remember being in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon< Myanmar) and painstakingly crafting letters to my friends in the Philippines and even Japan and also writing emails when it would take many days or even months for a response to come back. I knew that i wanted to keep my mind sharp and to keep myself abreast of what’s happening back in my home country that I needed to communicate even though it would require pen and paper or even very slow dial-up Internet where it was a rarity to even hear of anyone to have an email account. Imagine now how the Internet changed that – even places like North Korea where it’s supposed to be very hard to send back information is now abuzz with all these new images that they smuggle at the borders of China using SD cards. One of the articles was reminiscing the days when they had to tape cassettes around the waists of their informants and had to physically bring them across the border. Fast forward a few years and it’s still the same system but now it’s in SD cards that’s smaller than a man’s thumb. Apparently, people in there are freaking out because North Korean authorities are trying to triangulate signals from mobile devices when they are turned on – but I wouldn’t be surprised when they develop devices that even don’t emit these signals and just upload it straight to a satellite or via microwave signal or even laser light. Who knows? Was it Eric Raymond that said that information wants to be free? The Internet has accelerated that and now there’s very little that can be hidden from anyone. With enough resources and determination, people with enough resolve can set any piece of information free. Case in point would be Wikileaks – people have been leaking out information even on penalty of imprisonment and humiliation – just so that the world can know what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was impossible before but now this rarity of “whistleblowing” apparently is just going to be more and more prevalent as people desire to converse and set information free.