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Whether you’re a content creator or simply a consumer, you send and receive most information using visually-based methods. After all, even reading this article requires the use of your eyes — as does reading a book, watching TV, interacting online, or immersing yourself in a Virtual Reality landscape.
However, it’s deceptively easy to forget that it hasn’t always been this way. Although the written word is thousands of years old, the spoken word far precedes it, meaning that every single one of us is genetically equipped to pass on and absorb information by using our voice and ears.
Should we regress?
So should we all go back to the way it was? At first thought, it seems regressive, in the age of 8K video and visually-based apps like TikTok and Instagram, but maybe our minds aren’t equipped to deal with the huge amount of visual information that we’re bombarded with every single day. We certainly aren’t meant to have written conversations with strangers, as proven by the lack of balance and coherence shown in most Twitter and Facebook exchanges.
In their 1984 hit song “Radio Ga Ga,” British band Queen pleads for audio to “stick around ’cause we might miss you when we grow tired of all this visual.” Of course back then people were far from being tired of visual, as music videos and VHS tapes were proof that the golden age of video had just begun. In the following decades everything got better, smoother, more hi-res, but also way more stressful and difficult for those who had to always look good on camera. And since the dawn of social media, that’s included most of us.
Betting on audio
Perhaps the best argument for a better way to communicate online is the entangled, violent, and erratic world of Twitter. Initially thought of as a way for people to quickly express their thoughts and ideas to a large audience, it quickly became the trash bin of the internet, where most conversations quickly turned into shouting matches and insults. There must be a better way to interact and express ideas. If people could actually hear and speak to each other, wouldn’t that filter out a lot of insults and rude attacks?
One person who seems to think so is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The platform’s first steps towards audio were taken this year, with users now able to send 140-second audio tweets. But his rumored recent activity hints at much more than that. He has been reportedly testing out one of Silicon Valley’s hottest new startups, Clubhouse.
The simplest way to describe Clubhouse is that it’s a virtual audio-only chat room where people can listen to others discuss a topic and join the conversation if they feel like it. No pictures, no video. You don’t have to figure out what outfit to wear, worry about a red spot on your nose, or fix your hair. You don’t even have to pay attention or pretend that you are. Intimacy is rare and precious in today’s internet landscape, with audio-only apps like this one providing a way to talk to others on any issue without having to reveal any part of your identity except your voice.
Another sign that audio may be the future of online communication is tech giants Apple, Amazon, and Google constantly pouring money into their voice control apps. Although their dream of making Siri, Alexa, and Google Home portals for quick online shopping didn’t quite pan out, they are still heavily investing in audio-based communication technology. Maybe they also see audio’s potential as a new medium of choice for online interaction.
The future sounds amazing
Imagine an online chat room where people actually chat. No quickfire Twitter insults, no long and pointless Facebook arguments, just a bunch of people, anonymous or not, discussing, debating, and sharing information. Entering one of these chat rooms would be like walking into a party. You’ll find people mingling and exchanging ideas and you can choose to either listen in on the conversation or actively participate and share your thoughts with a group. You can also retreat into a virtual corner and have a private conversation with a friend or a stranger.
The signs are already here. Despite books being more accessible than ever, the popularity of audiobooks is booming, with Deloitte estimating that the global market will grow by a whopping 25 percent in 2020, up to $3.5 billion. Also, despite video-based content and conversations being widely available on the World Wide Web, podcasts are constantly growing in popularity and audio giant Spotify paid podcast host Joe Rogan a reported 100 million dollars for exclusivity rights to his podcast.
No matter how many pieces of eye candy we surround ourselves with, there’s no doubt that we will always have the desire to speak our mind and to listen to others. That being said, it’s only natural that the tech world would discover and embrace people’s innate desire for audio communication. Although the golden age of radio will likely never come back, it’s quite possible that the golden age of audio will be the next step in communication technology.