My last visit to the Tuttle Club was unexpectedly fruitful. After the crowds had cleared, Spinvox lead a very thought provoking session on “The Future of Voice”. It touched on many things that are dear to my heart. I have been involved in communications technology for over 30 years, and in that time much has changed. However, all my reminiscing about acoustic couplers and the founders of Apple inc hacking phone networks is pushed to the back of my mind as I think about the future ahead.

Today I can pick up a phone and call anyone I know, anywhere on the planet. Many of us have known no different all our lives. Mobile phones are so engrained into our social fabric that even those who can remember a time without them don’t. The time before them seems like a bygone era from the history books.

Over the next few years we will experience a similarly dramatic shift in the way we communicate. One aspect of that will be video (The Truly Mobile Office), the other is communications that cross modalities – Text that becomes speech, and speech that becomes text.

Spinvox delivers on a key aspect of the unified communications vision, today. It is a great productivity tool, at personal level and a business one. Its capabilities also open up lots of philosophical discussion, and there was certainly plenty of that in the session with Anne Marie, Ciaran, Ewan, Francine, James & James, Jay, Laura, Lloyd, Rob, Roger, Rachel, Sizemore, Terence, Toby and myself. An amazing set of perspectives from a diverse and insightful group, you can read more on the conversation here.

Voice was the ultimate disposable medium. Conversations are spoken and lost, aside from the occasional podcast, voicemail exchange or a video. A voice conversation is an amazingly rich form of communication, compared to something like e-mail or a blog. The tone of voice, intonation and real-time interaction engages our brain and connect us. They are the reason that the Dunbar number is so high – while apes pick nits out of each others hair to form social bonds, we chatter. Not all chatter is meant to be disposable, but to make something permanent, we had to write it down.

The technology to record every single conversation we have exists. Cheap digital audio equipment and an explosion in the size of hard drives make it affordable and possible. But what would we do with it all? Today you can’t Google your way through the world’s podcasts, you’d have to listen to them to find out if it contained what you want. Certainly you could tag every conversation recording, but all that digital editing and tagging wouldn’t leave much time for a social life. As a side note, I wonder how it would change what we do and say if every word was recorded, not just by you, but by everyone in the conversation?

Unlocking the power of the spoken word isn’t about recording it, valuable as that is. Not only can we not search those recordings, but we also loose one of the great benefits of reading: speed. We read faster that we can talk or write. Not much of a defence against the torrent of information we have to consume these days, but a useful one never the less.

We can also read in places and at moments where we couldn’t listen. Reading an SMS message in a meeting is relatively unobtrusive, compared to answering a call or listening to a voicemail – not that that seems to stop some people doing that.

Spinvox takes voice messages and makes them textual, and that is what makes it a powerful. You can create a searchable archive of text, including jotting voice notes (which are a key piece of my GTD workflow) – no excuse for loosing thoughts. You can read a voicemail message rather than having to listen to it – faster and less obtrusive. Yes, you might loose the expression of the voice – tone, pitch, volume, pauses – but you experience the spoken vocabulary still. We speak in a different way than we write, and that survives the conversion. Powerful stuff.

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