Generally, when it comes to new technologies, we expect youth to win. It’s the kids who will be the early adopters, not us old folks. They will get their heads around it much quicker than us. They will be quicker to adapt and adopt. But I believe grown-ups will win voice. Here’s why.
If you were born in the 1960’s or 1970’s, chances are you got through most, if not all, of your schooling without computers. To some degree, of course, that depends a bit on exactly where you grew up. Schools in the major cities of developed countries had the technology early. For those schools in rural areas of developing countries, it took considerably longer to arrive. In fact, for many born around this time, work life too began largely without computers.
Instant, or at least timely communication, was done verbally. We could send a letter, if we were willing to wait a week or so for a reply. If it was more urgent, in a work setting, we could send a fax. (For you young ‘uns… a fax is a bit like an email that you print, then scan through a machine to send it to someone else.) But the most efficient way to communicate was usually by voice. We spoke to people.
If I called your number and you didn’t answer the phone, I left a message on your answering machine. Still verbal. When we got our first taste of mobile phones, messages could now be left on voicemail. But still, it was voice. To be fair, with those early ‘dumb phones’, we did have this new thing called SMS (Short Message Service) which allowed us to send messages in text form, to each other’s mobile phones. But it wasn’t super-efficient. To press one button three times just to get one letter out, simply took too long.
When Nokia launched their Communicator 9000 mobile phone in 1996, things changed. Now we had a proper mini-keyboard in a mobile phone. That meant we could type our messages much quicker. Even more exciting, we could now send emails from our mobile phone too. Why bother trying to explain it to someone over the phone anymore? Now we could just send a clear, simple message, via email or text. No need to talk to anyone.
But something even more significant happened as a result of this new technology. We could now ask and answer questions when we wanted to. No more interruptions. I could now quickly send you a message when I it suited me. And you could then answer me when you wanted to. As long as you replied to me in a timeframe that worked for me, we’re all good. I wouldn’t have to call you to interrupt whatever else you were doing. And if you took a little too long to get back to me, guess what? I’d probably just send you another message to remind you. Only if it was absolutely, mission-critically-urgent would I take the now radical step of calling you.
Now, for us old folks, making a call is still doable. It’s what we grew up with. But for our millennial offspring, they’ve grown up in a world where much of their communication is non-verbal. Theirs is a world of messaging shorthand and emojis. At the risk of becoming my parents, I swear to God that kids today just mumble! Every discussion I hear seems to loaded with so much slang and abbreviation that it almost sounds like a new language. And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, so we can’t understand. But then, what hope do Alexa and Siri have?
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” (Strother Martin, Cool Hand Luke – 1967)
Today’s voice platforms, like Alexa, Siri, Google Home, etc., need clarity. No mumbling allowed! Not only do you have to speak clearly to your voice assistant, but you also need to avoid slang terms. Failure to do so will be met with a sharp, smug retort from the off character who lives in that little speaker. ”I’m sorry, I don’t know about that. Is there something else I can help you with?”. Ok, to be fair, the response is probably not that sharp or especially smug. But sometimes it sure does feel like that, doesn’t it?
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning seem to guarantee that these platforms will be much more forgiving in the future. Our voice assistants will learn to interpret our own unique voice characteristics. In time, they will probably even be able to decipher the mumbling ramblings of a teenager. But till then, the door is wide open for us old folks to be the early adopters of this amazing new technology.
In a Voice-First world, no ninja-level technical skills are required – at least from a user perspective. All we need is our voice and some basic communication skills. The devices are simple to use. They are quickly becoming embedded everyday devices and appliances. So, for all those Baby Boomers out there who thought their time had passed…fear not! You are exactly the right audience of early adopters in a Voice-First world!