business news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

Y'know, I figure that if I live long enough, I'm going to see almost every futuristic contraption created for the various "Star Trek" series and movies actually invented for real-world use. We may have a way to go until we have holodecks and transporters, but cell phones actually are pretty close to the communicators first imagined for "Star Trek" more than 50 years ago, just as voice activated computers from Amazon, Google and Apple seem pretty similar to those shown on the TV series.

This week, the Christian Science Monitor reported on yet another example of reality seeming to imitate fiction.

According to the story, Skype has expanded an existing voice and chat application tool so that people can use it for any mobile phone or landline in a user’s contact list - and most importantly, use to speak with a vast number of people around the world, no matter what language they happen to speak. In real time.

"Skype and its parent company are contestants in a machine translation arms race to help users lose their pocket dictionaries and tap into more foreign markets," the Monitor writes. "Now that Google Translate can understand the text of 103 languages, the tech world has turned its attention to real-time voice translation. While machine translation is far from perfect, observers say its implications for busting through language barriers are huge."

Sounds a lot like Star Trek's universal translator technology, which allowed humans to speak and understand Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Andorians, Tholians and Bajorans ... pretty much everybody but those pesky Tamarians, who always wanted to speak in allegories, making actual language less the issue. (But that's a story best left for another time...)

In so many ways, though, this advance strikes me as more than just a reflection of how "Star Trek" is so important to our culture. It actually is a pretty good metaphor for the importance of communication.

It isn't just about language, after all. It also is about understanding the meaning behind the words we use ... and understanding that what we say and how we say it can have an enormous impact on people. That can be tough these days, especially when nerves are raw, sensitivities have been laid bare, and even the phrase "political correctness" somehow can seem politically incorrect in certain circumstances. All these things can affect the way businesses communicate with customers, employees and business partners ... and not always for the better.

I know that I think about this a lot. I'm responsible for some 20,000 words a week that end up on this site, and sometimes it means walking a line. For example, I thought it was entirely fair when a reader pointed out the referring to the Washington NFL team as the "Redskins" was more hurtful to Native Americans than just calling them "Washington," and so I've adjusted. It seemed like a small thing to do. And when a reader recently called me out for referring to the majority owner of Sears as "Fast Eddie Lampert," suggesting that this was just as bad as "Lyin' Hillary Clinton" and saying that it wasn't helpful or fair, I took that advice. No matter what some people say, I'd like to think I'm capable of personal growth.

But that doesn't mean that I'm not going to be blunt from time to time - even painfully so - when the story seems to call for it. Being forthright doesn't mean being insensitive ... though I concede that this may be seen differently depending on your point of view.

In the end, though, I think the expanded Skype application is a move in the right direction. But the ability to have our words translated in real time into all languages, Terran or other-worldly, as in "Star Trek," may not be as important as a couple of other sentiments suggested by the series - that we need to understand that living, sentient beings come in "infinite diversity, in infinite combinations," and that we need to allow all of them to "live long and prosper."

Which strikes me as being as fitting a sentiment for the holidays as that tree back there.

That's what is on my mind this morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: