Updating our stuck interactions

There are few sitcoms, thrillers or plays where the plot can tolerate the addition of a cell phone. Once the characters have the ability to connect and clear up misunderstandings at will, a lot of tension disappears. If Juliet had had a smartphone, she and Romeo would have ended up married, living in a house in the suburbs.

And the ubiquitous meeting-in-person has a similarly long history. And yet they still happen with very few changes, with power getting the head of the table, traditionally privileged voices being the loudest and no accommodations for new information or asynchronous interactions.

Political debates are largely unchanged since Lincoln’s day. Yes, we have microphones now, but it hasn’t occurred to the organizers to use a timer and simply turn off the mic when time’s up, not to mention including real time fact checking. We still reward bullying, bloviating and dances of dominance.

Email, once the most modern form of interaction, hasn’t changed much at all since I got my first address in 1976. There are a hundred ways it could be dramatically more effective and efficient, but it’s stuck.

Weddings, high school graduations and funerals also remain similar to the way they’ve always been.

One reason these formats stick around is that they are connection devices, and we often believe that we have to stick with the status quo, because getting everyone involved to agree on a new method is too difficult. And yet, new methods do arise… but sometimes we stick with the old ones without wondering why.

Humans have been communicating and coordinating since the beginning. But in the last fifty years, we’ve transformed the tech–now we need to think hard about whether we’re sticking with something because it works, or because we always have done it that way.

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