How many of us actually spend time thinking about just how much we’ve all changed thanks to tech? We’re always using technology but seldom take a moment to reflect on the new patterns and behaviors we took on in response to technological improvements.

In a recent interview with Dr. Claude Fischer, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, we learned more about what these massive technological shifts mean for our culture. Ultimately, we see hints of where our culture is headed as AI and remote work technologies continue to remake our social fabric. Ever wonder where the cloud and seamless communications might take us next?

Technology has a fascinating impact on our culture and can transform how we communicate every day. Yesteryear’s technological changes actually do have a lot to teach us about how people and technology work together.

Telephone Service, Societal Change and Neighborly Gossip

Before you could make a phone call and immediately reach someone else, you might’ve spoken with someone face-to-face, through a letter or maybe via a telegraph transmission. And if you did use the telegraph, you used it for short messages that had a simple and straightforward purpose. When the telephone became commercially available, that’s how people thought of it, too--as a way to relay short messages with a business purpose. At first, this kept the phone out of the home and limited its social impact. People were not having long conversations and using the phone for personal chit-chat.

“And one of the striking things about the telephone story, which I tell in my book, is that the idea of using the telephone for personal reasons wasn’t even considered appropriate. It wasn’t a proper use of the telephone,” notes Dr. Fischer. Checking-in on friends and family was, at first, a taboo but nevertheless occasional occurrence that was highly discouraged. “If you subscribed to phone service, you’d use it for business. It wasn’t until later that the telephone’s value for personal calls was recognized,” he added.

Once phone service companies realized the commercial potential of convincing individuals to subscribe for home phone service, everything changed. The telephone had Americans gossiping over the phone line they shared with their neighbor, ordering from home through catalogs and living further away from the places they were born in. Suddenly, people had the opportunity to eavesdrop and see something akin to today’s public social media posts. They grew to know more about their neighbors and saw a more personal side of others’ lives than was possible before.

Social communications soon began to need phone service. Our lives changed around having access to phones in the home.

Social Communications and Our Future

Phone service equated to connectivity and staying in touch with loved ones, friends and members of our communities. The function of phone service changed even as it transformed our lives and livelihoods. In a similar vein, today’s remote work technologies such as Virtual Office are already reshaping how we work and where work fits into our society.

“I think today we’re in a period where we’re still trying to figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate in the new kinds of media we’re using,” Dr. Fischer suggests. “You see fumbles around those lines--like the idea that one shouldn’t write emails with capital letters--but we’re simply not there yet. I think we’re still in the learning stages. We’re still figuring out texting etiquette.”

The result of all of this flux is a culture that’s still writing the rules for remote work technologies. To Dr. Fischer, this is a sign that there’s a need for businesses to set the tone in their own workplaces. Your organization can be proactive and help the culture along as it makes decisions around technology.

Innovation for Tomorrow’s Workplace

AI, voice recognition and other game-changing technologies are here, shaping our society and remaking our social customs. Alongside these changes is a culture ready to form new ideas. And yes, new gossip.

Your business can prepare for changing behavioral patterns and customs. You cannot change where technology is headed, but you can embrace it. And communications technologies are here to stay.

Do you remember phone service being different when you were growing up? Share a story with us on social media by mentioning @8x8 and #communicationstransformed.

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