Smartphone: friend or foe?

Let’s be honest with ourselves: people are losing the ability to communicate. They are becoming thick-skinned and indifferent. Politicians have stopped understanding their voters, teachers don’t have a clue what’s on the minds of their students, and speakers have lost connection with their audience… Of course, I’m not talking about you personally. But this is true for most salespeople with whom you must interact with every day. And smartphones are to blame.

Smartphone: friend or foe?

Following the path beaten by the pocket PC, the first smartphone appeared on the mass market 25 years ago. It was assumed that it would become a full-featured helper of a business person: aiding in sending electronic messages, receiving stock quotes, buying and selling. In the today’s reality, based on the King’s College London’s data, more than 23% of teenagers suffer from the smartphone dependency and psychological withdrawal in their absence. Adults have followed suit, turning smartphones into stupidphones: chats are now full of emojis, short and meaningless phrases, and abbreviations. Our excuse is that we abbreviate to save our interlocutor’s time: BYOB instead of detailed instructions and requests, IMHO instead of a substantiated standpoint. And amidst this drift of words and letters we are prevented from experiencing genuine emotions.

Whereas smartphone or newsfeed dependency is treatable with, for example, a healthy dose of willpower, the loss of emotional attachment is a real problem. An active smartphone user loses the ability to perceive non-verbal communication channels: intonations, gestures, pauses, emphases in pronunciation. The phrase “Pass the salt, please!” can have a score of emotional connotations, from a strict order to poignant sarcasm that has nothing to do with an eating occasion per se.

In any conversation, the intonation is very important. It is twice as important for a salesperson who, assumedly, must be empathic and be able to ask the right questions. Certainly, voice messages are still available. But try to recall how much useful info can be found in hours of talk? More often than not, nothing at all. Having forgotten how to enunciate clearly in writing, we are also forgetting how to speak.

Let’s face it: smartphones are deep-sixing our ability to communicate in a human way.

Let’s face it: smartphones are deep-sixing our ability to communicate in a human way.

But does it mean that it is time to proclaim a holy war against the technology in our pockets? By no means! Fighting with the windmills has never ended well for the fighters. And I am not a neo-luddite but, on the contrary, a head of a technology company that creates applications for PCs, tablets, and smartphones. That’s why I uphold the following position: “If you can’t beat it, lead it”. The smartphone has become an integral part of our life and since it makes no sense to try to fight it, the best strategy would be to turn a foe into a friend.

Let’s go back to 1996. We need to recall how it all started.

Let’s go back to 1996

A smartphone is a tool. Earlier in the day, the manufacturers concentrated on the smartphone’s multimedia capabilities, turning it into an entertainment center. Today, thanks to the open-source operating systems, we can shift the focus ourselves. The market already offers real-time interpreting applications indispensable for a tourist in a foreign country.

The next step would be to make the smartphone a human-to-human translator.

From English into English, from Spanish into Spanish, from Russian into Russian. Such translators are a totally new class of digital products. They help people to talk the same language. They aid in saying what’s important by using the right words. They will help a politician to speak the same language with fellow members of Congress as well as with voters from remote corners of the country. Teachers will appreciate the ability to cover topics of any complexity for specific audiences by demonstrating appropriate images, charts, and artwork.

Speakers will be able to address any audience, instantly adapting their discourse for a specific type of listeners.

The human-to-human translators help salespeople to sell and aid customers in choosing which products they really need.

A meticulous reader may raise an objection: if a smartphone starts communicating instead of a person, the latter will have no place in the digital world! I beg to differ. Any active translator is, first and foremost, a training tool.

A tourist enters a bar and asks for a beer with the help of their smartphone. In the second bar, they say hello without looking at the screen. In the third bar, they even remember how to say “beer” in the local language and doesn’t even need to take their phone out of their pocket. The same happens in any other similar situation. When you have repeated the same phrase 50 times, you remember every word, every intonation, and every pause.

Today, we are offering an aid for those who have trouble communicating, rather than a substitute for human emotions. Tomorrow, all kinds of such tools are sure to appear on the market. Over time, they will give us back our ability to ask questions, listen to the answers, hear our interlocutors, and choose the right words that will help us achieve the goal of the communication. And the answer to the question of whether your smartphone is your friend, or your enemy will depend solely on the way you use it.

by Andrew Pometun, founder of Selvery

The world's first target sales accelerator, providing the most understandable and transparent form of interaction with narrow segments of the target audience.