What Technology Has Taught Us About People

I'm old enough to remember the euphoria of the internet going mainstream in the '90's. Connected computers would mean we'd no longer have to leave our house to work, bank or shop. There were dire predictions of tumbleweeds drifting through the streets of our biggest cities as people cocooned at home in front of their computer.

But after twenty-five years we've learned one thing: human connection matters a lot more than we thought it did on paper. 

There's no question that working from home is a great option when solace is needed and time is of the essence - but we can now appreciate that there's no replacement for face to face collaboration. Despite trying to replicate the physical experience through video, human connection is missed. 

Whilst hiring employees based on a set of keywords seemed like the nirvana of recruitment it rarely surfaces the right candidate. We've learned that interacting with a person tells us far more than a set of keywords. 

If there was ever a better case for people over technology, voice recognition phone support surely take the prize: "I'm sorry, I don't understand your response...". A case study in technology use that flies directly against business objective (assuming the objective is great customer service).

While seeing family and friends on video calls is a great way to stay in touch it can make us long more for the time when we can see them in person. Rather than replace the need for human contact - it can serve as a reminder that we don't have it.

Technology is indeed replacing jobs. Factories can operate around the clock without a human in sight. But as technology has been leveraged to perform repeatable tasks once performed by humans it has also acted as a reminder of the unique abilities of humans.

A detail that many underestimated decades ago, as the potential impact of technology was clear - but the magnitude still unknown. We envisioned a world without office buildings or shopping malls because connected computers meant humans no longer needed to meet in person to transact.

Walking by any urban coffee shop or standing in a retail queue on Saturday tells us that prophecy didn't come true. 

People want to connect with people. The more technology frees us up from the mundane the more we seek to connect.

It's not a bad thing. It's a great thing - because people and technology complementing each other has a far greater upside than the aspiration for one to replace the other. 

We no longer live in an either-or world.

This means that businesses need to place value on 'soft' human traits like intuition and judgement. Layering those human characteristics on top of data is when things can really pop.

Just as creativity and innovation require a balance of collaboration and solitude, the technology and human mix is equally so. Businesses need to move away from the nirvana of automating all of their human workforce to giving them great technology that will help them do a better job. To supercharge human talent, not replace it.

We need to balance alone time and team time. Technology and people. Convenience with complexity. Through contrast, binary technology has taught us that the world we live in is indeed grey - and that there is no replacement for human interaction.