Voice Series – How Voice is the Natural Next Wave in the Personal Network

February 1, 2013 at 3:17 pm Leave a comment

Our voice is completely unique and natural to us. It transfers our emotion, our energy and our intention when we communicate. One small inflection in our tone sends a completely different message. Over the last 15 years, we have sacrificed the quality of our correspondence for convenience with the growth of asynchronous text communication like email and SMS. However, as our world becomes completely built on the Internet, it only makes sense that voice will come full circle and re-emerge as the next wave of online communication to enrich and improve our conversations. It’s universal, intuitive, emotional, and provides more clarity. The question is, where and how will it emerge and where will it make sense in our digital world? We think it’s in the Personal Network.

As of 2012, 71% of cell phone users preferred texting over calling.

So in such a text-driven mobile landscape devoid of verbal communication, where will voice make a comeback? Everyone thinks about Siri when you talk about voice and technology. We are talking about voice specifically in the context of correspondence. Technically, Siri is a machine who does not require any insight into your feelings, so it doesn’t qualify! But look at the big guys like Google introducing Google Voice, Microsoft acquiring Skype and even Facebook testing voice in their Messaging App. It doesn’t seem like they really know yet exactly where it’s going but they know they want a piece of the verbal action as we shift the balance of traffic from telephone networks to social networks.

Looking across the social mobile landscape, new voice-centric apps are popping up every month that are pairing voice with pictures, replacing text messaging with voice, or adding voice to social networks. It’s clear that something is brewing on the mobile Internet but, with the exception of perhaps HeyTell, nothing has really caught fire. On one hand, it adds back exactly what is lacking in text communication, emotional context. On the other hand, it often lessens the convenience of being able to scan conversations, chat during boring work meetings, or be semi-anonymous in the public social networking arena. It’s really only in the Personal Network, for the average person, where quality trumps convenience.

Personal Network? What’s that? It is, according to Robin Dunbar, evolutionary psychologist and social network guru, the number of friends that an average human tends to socialize in – specifically, this number of friends is 150. Sound small? It’s quite large actually, according to Dunbar. Here is what he has to say:

“The reason we’re able to function in so much larger groupings than our primate cousins…is because, tens of thousands of years ago, we taught ourselves to talk. Whereas baboons bond by taking turns picking each others’ nits, we have rhetoric and gossip and half-time speeches, not to mention singing and storytelling and jokes, to bring and hold us together. Language is how humans used their big brains to get to 150.”

Since the Caveman’s system of grunts and cave drawings, we have evolved to find the best and most efficient way to communicate, carry our voices, and spread our messages. In fact, we are still evolving. Adding voice back to personalize online communication is the next step.

Before the invention of cell phones and the Internet, the telephone was the leading method of personal connection. Before we could put a face to the voice, families gathered around their radios and listened to their favourite voice personalities. Shown pictures of some of the most powerful people in history and it’s their voice that plays back in your mind. Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King Jr., Charlie Chaplin (kidding – just wanted to see if you were paying attention!), Ghandi, Barack Obama, Michael Jackson, and even Hilter are all voices that you can most likely identify within seconds of hearing them. Voice is our own unique and personal stamp. The interesting thing is that because it is so personal, we really only connect with those voices of people that we care about (your Personal Network) or that are familiar and aspirational (celebrities, singers, actors, teachers, politicians).


So basically, unless you’re a close friend or family member, Lady Gaga or Michelle Obama, millions of people aren’t going to take the time to listen to what you have to say. Your family, friends, sports team, co-workers – they are the Personal Network and community who are motivated to listen. We think voice communication is for corresponding with those who want to listen, not just for sharing blindly out into the public social space where it simply turns into noise for anyone outside your circle of 150.

Just as we function and survive in our social circles, to survive in today’s social networks, you have to use certain tools to engage and capture attention to distinguish yourself, add your unique stamp. While it’s the combination of text, digital photos and video that are really what is piling up on the world’s servers at a rate faster than bunnies can multiply, people are increasingly finding ways to re-integrate voice back into their everyday. Which says there is actually hope for the triumph of ‘quality’ over ‘convenience’ and reversal of the stat that Facebook released last year that said on an average day,

57% of people talk more to people online than in person

It’s more now no doubt, and we find that slightly depressing!

*What makes me happy? Seeing the same 2 little old Italian men, in their weekend finest, meet every Saturday morning at my local coffee bar at 8am to engage in heated discussions…with lots of hand-motioning of course!

Dunbar also states that we have an innermost circle of friends of about 3 to 5. Chances are you maintain that closeness with those 5 people because you talk frequently. Maybe not face to face, but with a phone call at the very least. Think of your 5 people, they’re close with you because you’ve forged an emotional connection with them. You’ve debated, fought, laughed, had deep conversations about life, annoyed each other, and learned from each other. You actually have moments where you suddenly think, ‘I haven’t heard their voice in a long time.’ Almost like it’s an essential element of your being.

He goes on to say that that innermost circle is included in a group of about 12 to 15, those whose death would be devastating to us. And then comes 50, those friends who you see on a fairly regular basis, who you would invite to your 40th birthday bash. And of course, then the magic 150. Those you would send a Christmas card to (if you ever got around to it!). That’s where voice fits. Very rarely will you ever get meaningful conversations from text, and studies show that when something’s important, people do in fact pick up the phone to deliver their words in an emotional context. That’s how true connections are made and strengthened. To maintain those connections, to hold us together, as Dunbar says, humans have voice. ‘Human’ is making a comeback.

Have you tried adding voice back into your everyday correspondence? Share your comments or tweet at us: Lynne McEachern (@spoketech) or Leeann Yee (@leeannyee)

Entry filed under: Long Distance Love, Social Media. Tags: .

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