This week I learned that by 2020 there will be more than 50 billion ‘connected’ devices across the world. This means that for every one person on the planet there will be at least seven individual computers, laptops, handsets, tablets, and smart functioning pieces of technology. In reality, the distribution is far from even. Despite all the advances we have made in recent years, there remain one billion people who are digitally excluded in the world. The ability to connect quickly and easily is something many of us in the developed world take for granted. However, the rapid growth in new communication platforms can often seem overwhelming. My work takes me to some of the largest businesses – and some of the most powerful people – in the world. Yet often the simple premise of communicating an organizational message can be a daunting task. In fact, communication technology and new online platforms can sometimes appear to make the process that much harder and more complex.
Balance needed for honest communication
This is especially the case when businesses impose increasingly stringent rules and regulations about what can and cannot be said through social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. In many instances it is absolutely correct to do so – particularly with regards to sensitive or confidential information – but it often means that they’re not benefiting from the full value that honest disclosure and a speedy response can bring. It’s a fine balance, and I haven’t met anyone who has the perfect solution. To help combat this confusion, I often go back to basics: Nothing can beat a face-to-face conversation. I am often reminded of a story I heard about a UK television channel which did just this: To keep a story idea secret and ensure it wouldn’t leak to the media, they decided to ban all electronic communication about the project – the re-launch of a popular drama. All contact had to be in person or by phone. When the project was finally announced, it was a wonderful surprise. Another wonderful outcome was that the production team had become closer and happier because of the conscious effort they had made to talk to one another. I don’t think anyone was expecting that.
I’ve also seen that in action at home, but almost in reverse. For example, I remember the fierce family discussion we had years ago after watching a Hitchcock film all together – I used to long for Saturday night when we all gathered to watch the same programs. Now, many families watch different content separately on a variety of devices, and I think that sense of shared experience has been largely lost.
We feel better connected through personal contact
Yet technology can play a vital role in bringing people together too – and help in poverty alleviation. Just look at the incredible spread of mobile networks in Africa – and the many vibrant SMEs there that thrive and depend on connectivity. When I have a spare moment at work, I make a point of walking over to a colleague’s desk if I need to tell them something or I have a question. We all feel better connected through personal contact. So when we live in a world with 50 billion connected devices, remember this: It doesn’t matter how many handsets you’re using, it’s the conversation itself that matters most.