The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked off a surge in the demand for contactless communication. The sheer speed of change had not been forecasted before COVID-19 despite all the grand vision of digital transformation laid out by the tech industry. Working from home, learning from home, meeting from home, conferencing from home, and even interpreting from home became the new normal, adding a few more acronyms, such as WFH, to the already jam-packed list of abbreviations and acronyms. The transition had not been easy at first, but we’ve also proved ourselves to be extremely adaptable. And while we still crave in-person meetings, we’ve also developed a liking for the convenience and technology features offered by contactless communication. Of course, not everyone was tech-savvy and capable enough to instantly adapt to the new environment. But we didn’t have to be developers to search for the best options available for us.
We, at the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation, were no exceptions. We were desperate to find an online solution that enabled real-time communication equipped with simultaneous interpreting channels. Everyone voluntarily did their own research, looking for the solutions that best matched our interpreting class environment. Such endeavors helped improve not only the online interpreting class environment but also an online conferencing environment where simultaneous interpreting is required. At the end of the day, these small but meaningful grassroots efforts facilitated a swift transition to digital classes and conferences.
That is not to say that everything was perfect from the get-go. Almost everything felt uncomfortable at first vis-à-vis face-to-face meetings where we used to enjoy communicating using all five senses plus the sixth sense. Videoconferencing kept us inside small rectangular boxes, forced us to tolerate degraded voice quality, and made us wear plastic smiles throughout the meeting. The inconvenience had been more pronounced when it came to interpreting online. Interpreters had to suffer from low sound quality caused by the limitations of videoconferencing platform technologies or participants’ devices. Organizers worked hard to ensure that interpreters used high-quality microphones and headsets but often paid little attention to informing speakers and panelists to use high-quality microphones. Furthermore, easy access to unauthorized recording on online platforms sparked off copyright concerns as well. Numerous trials and errors and perennial finetuning have been inevitable.
Eventually, the challenges and inconveniences triggered rapid technological advancement. And video conferencing platforms had their pros as well. Communication became available anytime, anywhere, and from many devices. Meetings became less about formalities, nice outfits, or overpowering others with loud voices, but more about contents. Communication has become more horizontal as there’s no head table nor center stage on Zoom.
All these may seem new, but contactless communication had been present even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Text messages, Kakatotalk, Teams, etc. had already been part of our work and private communications, and they are often preferred to phone calls. Now there are a variety of options we can choose from as we communicate with each other. And with digital communication ready to enter the Metaverse realm, the already accelerated pace of digital transformation will move even faster regardless of whether we increase in-person contacts or not post COVID-19.
So, does this herald the advent of a digital communication utopia where even introverts can thrive? Unfortunately, all that is digital is not gold. We will continue to see blind spots of communication, misinterpretation, marginalized people, confusion, etc. For all the merits of Metaverse allowing people to enjoy spatial experience, those without access to visual communication means or sophisticated devices would experience FOMO on yet another universe. Business-wise, there would be an added burden on the part of those sending out their messages, as messages would have to be delivered through all sorts of platforms to make sure they reach every intended audience. Communication would become increasingly expensive and in oversupply.
At the end of the day, however, it’s business as usual. Technology keeps advancing. We will always adapt to any changes. We will continue to communicate with each other no matter what. Blind spots need to be covered. And content is Queen.