Have tech and its tools changed the way we interact with each other?

Tech's communication tools, such as Slack messages and Zoom, have become increasingly important in our lives. Their rise in popularity preceded the pandemic, as smartphones became indispensable to people of all ages, and these tools have continued to proliferate and evolve with society.

As the price of messaging dropped to almost zero, users have employed messages to communicate with friends and families in informal conversations. Messages have also become more personalized with the invention of emojis, said Justin Santamaria, a former lead engineer at Apple who created iMessage.

“Having the conversation of the bubbles going back and forth instead of feeling like email or this formal texting system, it's more conversational in nature,” Santamaria said. “And then when we add emojis … these things are an evolution of people actually using this as a way to express themselves, individuality, at the same time being expressive and communicative.”

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How have communication tools evolved over the past several years?

The popularity of emojis and images has allowed people to capture more information and tone in their communication, and they have made workplace messages more conversational, said Jim Szafranski, CEO of presentation software company Prezi.

While workers used to communicate mainly through email, now companies employ messaging platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

“The first big trend is a move from email on a laptop to instant messaging on a mobile device, and not just for simple things, like asking people if they're free for a meeting or what they think about an opinion, but to actually get work done,” Szafranski said.

He added that users have utilized messaging platforms as places to keep notes, such as the time and location of coming events. Instead of writing the details in a calendar, users could refer to messaging history to find the information.

While users a few years ago mostly employed messaging tools to talk with people they already knew, Santamaria said, more recently they have used these tools to reach people outside of their circles, such as making professional connections and getting online services.

“Texting is the most powerful digital communication tool we have today because it makes digital messages more fluid and conversational, and as a result, we communicate with greater frequency, and ultimately sharing more information,” Santamaria said.

How has social media impacted communication?

Santamaria said social media and texting have put an asynchronous emphasis on the way people communicate, giving users more flexibility in the timing of conversations.

“The format of these communication tools allows messages or posts to live in space, where they are accessible at any time,” he said. “Asynchronous is a more seamless and nondisruptive way for people to communicate remotely.”

With social media, online content could make the digital experience immersive and drive two-way engagements, Szafranski said, and during live videos, viewers could engage with the presenters through responses without interrupting the videos. Social media has also influenced virtual workspaces, he said.

“It started with newscast-style name badges and branding on-screen of video meetings, and now meeting attendees are sharing GIFs, text responses or charts on their video feed to contribute to the conversation and maintain the flow and efficiency of the meeting,” Szafranski said.

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Where are communication tools heading in the future?

Santamaria said he thinks people will increasingly meet each other for the first time through text messages rather than in-person encounters, and geography will become less of a restraint.

“We will meet people digitally likely before we meet them in real life, if we meet them at all,” Santamaria said. “Who we consider in our circle, who we take advice from and who we listen to, will no longer be geographically tied necessarily at all.”

He added that users will also receive more services through online messaging. As the co-founder of Future, a fitness app offering a digital coaching service, Santamaria said messaging creates a closer connection between users and coaches, and saves the trouble of setting up appointments.

For Szafranski, video-conference applications have allowed workers to join meetings from anywhere, and these virtual meetings have brought with them the convergence of different platforms, as users could message someone privately when in a meeting.

“I think over time, the real core way our business operates is on top of these messaging systems,” Szafranski said. “And now that said, I think the way they will evolve is they'll just get embedded more and more into the applications that people use.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How have communication tools evolved and changed the way we interact