In the age-old ‘would you rather’ question, many of us would rather lose our hearing over our vision. We believe sight is our means of seeing our place in the world and the key to staying in control. However, as Bella Bathurst writes in her book, Sound, hearing give us other people. Your tone reveals your state of mind, your accent reveals where you come from and your past experiences. Therefore your voice is a unique part of being you.
So what will the future of sound look like - not only for the communication industry but for society and our human experiences? Due to changing factors, such as, the growth of urban and tech communities, individuals increasingly plugging themselves into their personalised playlists and people starting to talk to voice assistants over shop assistants. And if you believe some reports, it is thought that we will be soon speaking to voice assistants even more than our friends and family.
Starcom’s Future of Sound report considers these big questions. Our society is swept up in a world of business and stress, keen to measure what we can and to speak up and speak out. Therefore, are we more focused on generating noise rather than appreciating it and listening?
In the communications industry we are experts when it comes to talking. But brands must remind themselves the importance of listening to their teams, their customers and the context of the cultural rhythm in which their products and services exist - as much as they want to talk and shout about their brand and purpose.
Filter bubbles have been created by our desire to listen to our own voice and viewpoints. To avoid the homogenisation of voices in the future, we need to celebrate the wealth of tones and accents – which will encourage and keep different viewpoints. The media industry continues to struggle with diversity. Ensuring gender and ethnic diversity in our industry are finally being widely considered, but are we in danger of missing the value of regional and class diversity too? One study found that 28% of UK population feel discriminated due to their accent and an even more revealing figure showed that 80% of employees admit to this bias.
And of course, the future of sound is also a world of ever sophisticated voice technology, which will completely reframe the relationship between brands and their customers. This is thought to result in the role of screens diminishing, and the role of sonic identities, audio and conversation increasing. Therefore, brands’ sonic sound have never been so important and the ethical considerations around this are considerable.
However, how much do we want our voice assistants to represent the voice of our personal home? Do they encourage diversity - not only linguistically but also in terms of a point of view? Alexa proudly asserts she is a feminist and supports Black Lives Matters. Most people would be pleased about this viewpoint, but should we consider what else ‘she’ supports, raising the much bigger question around what users want from their virtual assistants. Are they simply butlers to take on the chores and orders we loath to do ourselves. Or, will they be our confidants and advisors, or even our conscience? For the communications industry these are new and powerful leaps, where the forces of the future must be fully understood - to ensure we hit the right tone with our audience.
Jodie Stranger is the chief executive for the UK Group and president for global clients EMEA at Starcom