Real Time Communications Featured Article

In Defense of Real Time Communications and Technology: Responding to Viral Video 'Look Up'

May 08, 2014

There’s a viral video that has made its way onto my social feeds since last week called “Look Up.” Gary Turk, the writer, director and performer in the video, leads the viewer through a beautifully written script (I’m a sucker for rhyming) about the downfalls of our reliance on mobile devices and social media – in the midst of sharing our lives with hundreds of “friends,” we end up missing out on life and many times alone.

As a technology editor and a millennial, I am Turk’s target audience: I am constantly immersed in the digital universe, which means, yes, the first time I watched this video was on my smartphone in a room full of people while we were all on our phones, barely paying attention to the TV on, and yes, I understand the irony. I presume I was not alone in seeing this video shared while I was using technology instead of living real life, and that was absolutely Turk’s intention. The video currently has almost 30 million views.   

The call for a disconnected lifestyle isn’t just coming from videos like Turk’s. Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic” (sorry, I’m almost always able to make a country music connection) single paints a picture of a simpler time, of crank-down windows, pay phones and Polaroids. Restaurants offer discounts if people leave their phones at the hostess stand. There are countless TED Talks on the effects of technology and our reliance on it, and even more documentaries and studies on the effects of being plugged in, all of which point, in some way or another, to missing out on real life opportunities, like asking a girl for directions who ends up being the love of your life.

I know the headline of this story seems like a stretch, but stay with me on this. What if those people in the same room on their phones were participating in a multiplayer game? What if the girl by herself on her laptop was video chatting with her grandmother, or a friend overseas? Like it or not, our phones, tablets and computers are here to stay, and there are going to be more just like them in the future (Google Glass and smartwatches are only the beginning). The key is to take all of these messages and studies with a grain of salt, understand when technology does not have a place in your life and embrace technology that does actually enhance real-life experiences. Have you ever played Heads Up? Try and tell me that’s not one of the most fun ways to integrate technology to spruce up the living room interaction experience.

Yes, I 100 percent understand Turk’s message and am all for putting our phones and technology away to preserve life’s cherished moments. But I’m also an advocate for developing real time communications so technology is not isolating us from life, but rather becoming a way to enhance it. I do not mean using video chatting or messaging so often that it replaces actually physically interacting with another person, and we transform into the citizens from Wall-E.

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Take contact centers, for example. As of now, calling a contact center can be one of the most frustrating processes as you sit through unorganized IVR systems, explain your situation repeatedly to different agents or try and describe a screen or product problem verbally. The future of contact centers has WebRTC, which means agents know who you are, what you were looking at and what you have an issue with before they even pick up the call. Better yet, that call can be made right from your Web browser, agents can even share your screen to better serve you and there’s an option to video chat with an agent, replicating a real life, face-to-face interaction. WebRTC is becoming integrated into mobile devices and applications as well, so you can have these types of experiences right when you need them (ie, an emergency).

I believe there is a happy medium between a Wall-E level of reliance on technology and a complete disconnect, and I think real time communications will be a step in reaching that.

In the meantime, try not to judge someone who’s looking at a device and not at you. Maybe they’re checking out your LinkedIn page before they say venture to say “Hi!” They might well turn out to be the love of your life; they’re just doing their “due diligence” first.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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