In just the last week I have received messages through texts, emails, Facebook, Instagram, Slack and LinkedIn. Those are just some of the inboxes I have to check regularly. There’s a million ways to be in communication these days and an equal amount of ways to miss a communication.
So forgive me as I propose even more ways to communicate.
But my proposals are not like the existing options, which all do pretty much the same thing: send and receive texts, files, images, and video. (Could we not just pick one and be done with it?)
My proposals are for less functionality.
Because, if you look at how we naturally communicate (or how any natural thing communicates), it’s not all the things.
For example, a head nod does not have audio, video, text, or emojis. In many ways it is inferior to an email. But a head nod is its own special way of communicating. If a friend nods at my question, it’s markedly different than if they texted me “y”.
Many of the natural ways to communicate ideas are unique and special: pointing, hugging, coughing, whistling, etc. They resonate in a way that is unique and often more on the mark and to the point than an email or text every will be. I’ll call these communications the natural methods and the others the multimedia methods.
What I’m going to describe here are neither. You might think of them as unimedia or limited media communications. (There’s probably some name for it already, but I’m not going to bother to look it up because you have the point, I assume).
Let’s start off by discussing a limited media communication that at one point was the cutting edge: pagers.
Pagers were a device you carried around like a smartphone. Despite being the size of a smartphone, they were often (for reasons unclear) clipped to the outside of your pants rather than put inside your pocket. When someone wanted to contact your pager, they would call you from a landline and type in a number. Usually their phone number. You would get a beep on your pager (sometimes referred to as a beeper), check the number, and then go find a phone and call the number.
In the 90’s it was solving a communication problem. But looking at it now, it was a special experience of communicating with someone. There’s a bit of mystery to it. (Who’s number is this?) There was more story and drama because now you had to find a phone. That meant often asking strangers to direct you to a pay phone. Maybe you didn’t have quarters and had to get quarters. Maybe the payphone was kind of gross.
There’s still remnants of pagers these days and they have their own special experience different from pagers.
Running on the old pager technology (which, btw, is a different network than cell phones use) are those plastic beeping things you get at restaurants that vibrate violently when your order is up.
Using pagers and restaurant beepers is a special experience – both for the sender and receiver.
Having limited features can create an experience that multimedia communication devices are just too big to offer and this provides opportunities for creativity for the IRL experience designer.
In the next post I’ll play with the idea of this one way limited communication.