I am always fascinated by the latest turns in technology – the “cloud”, the iPad, 4G networks, the ability of a 16 year old to sail around the world while blogging from her sail boat in the middle of the Indian ocean (http://www.abbysunderland.com). At the same time, I am increasingly frustrated by the turns and twists one has to take today to get meaningful human interaction. I wonder sometimes if we have taken technology too far in our quest to automate, achieve low cost of services, or to “simplify” processes.
Take the example of an insurance company where twenty years ago, your medical claim arrived in the company’s mail center who distributed it to a person who handled your pieces of paper from start to finish. You may have even known the name(s) of person(s) who handled your claims — maybe you put a post-it note on top of your stack of paper with a friendly greeting and a thank you. Today, that same claim likely routes to an area where one set of workers take the pieces of paper you sent, scans the paper into a system and sends your original paperwork to a file no person will ever access. The little post-it note you attached would have been ripped off in the scanning process. The detailed documentation you included may or may not end up in the final claim that is processed. And your claim will be paid (or not paid) by the next available claims representative who doesn’t know you or your employer, but who will see the electronic scan of your paperwork pop up onto their computer screen. Thanks to technology, however, the claims representative doesn’t have to know you or your company’s benefit plan. Everything will be calculated by “Hal“, the back-end computer system. And Hal can tend to have a perverse sense of retribution for his servitude. Hal doesn’t care if your claim is paid correctly — after all, he isjust a computer. Or is Hal more than that? Has Hal replaced us??
What used to take a quick phone call to get something resolved, today requires punching in an extended set of numbers, passwords, IDs, menu selections — all in an attempt to avoid having to speak to a human being. Don’t get me wrong — I developed one of those “interactive voice response” systems myself many years ago to help direct callers to the most appropriate source for information. I’m a big fan of what technology can do for us!
What I want to be sure that we all remember — that we raise our children to remember — is that some things in life still demand human interaction. Yes, we can even create a baby in a test tube with very little human intervention. But doing so, haven’t we missed out on one of life’s greatest joys in the procreation process?
The point is that there’s a place and time for everything. Technology serves so many valuable purposes. Think of the soldier in Afghanistan who is now able to interact in some very human ways with his family at home via internet technology, chatting and webcams. Half a century ago, soldiers and families waited for handwritten letters to arrive via US Postal Service! But – there was something in those letters — a deep sense of caring. Someone took the time to put their deepest thoughts, wishes and dreams into writing. And that writing formed the basis of what we know today of our social history in the latter half of the 20th century.
I blog to share a record of myself and my ideas and dreams. I text to find out where my children are (even when they are upstairs in their bedrooms). I search the web instead of a public library for answers. I am as deeply rooted in technology as every one of you who are reading this. (IS anybody reading this??) But in all of these activities is the quest for human interaction. I’m trying to find the answers and I cannot find them without you — without a network of colleagues, friends, family who can light my fire within.
This is what I believe is key to successful business management today — that through technology we learn to connect with each other in many different ways and on many different levels. . . that through technology we find “the crowds”* that will drive us towards diverse, creative, passionate thinking. . . that through technology we work together in a very human way. Let’s not let technology lead us. Let’s use technology to make us leaders.
So, when we develop that next user interface (UI) or internet explorer (IE) site or employee interaction center (EIC), or interactive voice response (IVR), or business intelligence (BI) tool, my goal is to remember the human side of the technology and not just the vast network of abbreviations, acronyms and technical lingo that make the interaction possible. Technology has made it easier, better, faster to do so many things. We are, indeed, living in amazing times. But the most amazing thing about all this technology is how it has enabled me to reach out to YOU.
So – don’t forget the human interaction side of things. Find me in person sometime and we’ll chat live. 😉 Until then…see you around SDN, ASUG.COM, Linked In and Facebook!
*”The Wisdom of Crowds” was presented at SAPPHIRENOW by best-selling author James Surowiecki.