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Virtual communication: with the technology available, we need a touch of humanity

We have the necessary technology to make the best of this troubled period, but we need a plan to put it into action in a way that can be extended to all professions and sectors.

In the most simple terms, virtual communication is when people communicate without being face-to-face and this has naturally increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and seems to be here to stay – at least, for the foreseeable future.

Communication is essential when managing or working with a team and it becomes even more important when your team is distributed across their own home-offices. Even without the lockdown restrictions, there are a lot of people that are still at home working and avoiding social contact, so online and mobile interactions have grown (and are still growing) at an unprecedented rate in the last couple of months.

The technology we already knew, but people found new ways to use it, such as hosting virtual parties and reunions in professional and casual contexts. According to Ami Rokach, a psychologist and expert in loneliness referenced in this article on the BBC, this happened not only for professional reasons but also because since many of us are cut off from offline social interaction, we opted for voice and video calls as alternatives to keep us closer. Fortunately, we live in a highly globalized world and we are always connected through the internet, messages, or phone calls. However, none of these replaces human contact. Today, we realize that we are able to work in isolation, thanks to technological development and the investments in communication infrastructures, but we still need a plan for the human side on digital communication.

For example, while schools have been closed, there was no previous plan for an online schedule to keep students active and involved in school activities for an entire day, as they usually do when physically going to school. Don’t get us wrong - all the effort made by parents, students and teachers was amazing -, but the truth is that the system was not ready to turn digital from one day to another. Even teachers who already adopted online teaching methods faced the challenge to communicate to an audience that didn’t react or interact. They didn’t know if students were paying attention or having doubts, because in many cases the cameras were switched off.

This shows that the technological development in this area still needs to be improved so we can fill these gaps. Digital tools should be a solution to bypass isolation and to keep mental health in place, but while it is true that some people feel more connected with others online, it is troubling to others who are not as familiar and well-versed in technology and how it works, as described by Jean Kim, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University.

At Didimo, we believe that technology should be an ally to address all these issues: to overcome the lack of humanity in virtual interactions and to find a secure and comfortable way to keep privacy when using digital communication, for example, digital humans who can bring empathy and personal peculiarities to online interactions, giving a new dynamic to distance learning.

Let's go back to school operation during a pandemic. Imagine a secure platform, in which students and teachers can use their digital representation. Each person would have neither an animated avatar, nor a highly complex structure at home, but would be able to create their own digital identity, with their facial expressions and nuances. The entire classroom would be replicated but in the digital world. The courses would be taught, and students would be able to ask questions, all through their digital human. The teacher would also be familiar to them, which would facilitate the learning process since the relationship they established in the offline world is very important for the students.

Outside the described context, there are still other big challenges. We talk about elderly people who have been more isolated than ever. Or disabled persons for whom communication is just one more barrier to inclusion. Their ignorance of digital tools and their dependence on third parties still need to be addressed. Digital literacy and a digital tool capable of representing them as they would like to be seen would be essential pieces to improve their daily routine.

We have the necessary technology to make the best of this troubled period, but we need a plan to put it into action in a way that can be extended to all professions and sectors. We must remember that, even if, recently, some companies moved freely to digital in a relatively smooth way, there are children, young people, parents and the elderly groups that have been forced to restructure their routines, without a script or good practices to follow. Unplanned moments make us more creative and curious. We need to find new angles and opportunities to successfully overtake this period.

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