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October 22nd, 2008

Coming Full Circle: Humanity is the New Technology

Blog Post written by David Armano

I’ve been listening to the complimentary audio version of Seth Godin’s new book called Tribes and have to say it’s fairly dead on. Except I’d frame it slightly differently. While we may in fact be returning to tribal-like behaviors and looking for “leaders” of these tribes in the process, what we’re really craving is more humanity itself. I see clues of this everywhere, from the direct engagement (people talking to other people) as enabled by Twitter, to Apple’s Genius bar which gives us live, breathing and fairly smart people to help us when a human touch is needed.

What’s going on? We were told that automation, and flying cars would be the future—is it possible that we’re heading toward a future that actually feels more like the past even though it may not look like it? As a self proclaimed veteran of the digital space (I’ve been in it since ’97), we thought the future of the Web would feel more human as the rate of technology and production advanced. For example, pre-recorded “avatars” could make a Website feel more human. Or could it? In the end the user always knew that they were getting pre-recorded, post produced humanity. It was human-like but not really human.

Human To Human Interaction?

Consider this. Yesterday evening and this morning I spent some time talking to a couple of employees from a brand agency called Lisa P Maxwell

Specifically, I had conversations with Steve and Aneisha. The conversations were enabled through as simple live chat and Web cam technology, but the entire site was built around the agency’s people and if they were available to talk to you—they would. The conversations I had with Steve and Aneisha were reminiscent of talking to someone you had just met on the bus. I found out that Aneisha lived in Grand Rapids Michigan (on weekends) and I shared that I go there all the time to visit in-laws. Steve and I exchanged some ideas about how to make the chat experience work even better. Ironically the agency is in Chicago, so I e-mailed Aneisha (directly from the interface) and we’re discussing arranging a co-office tour in the near future.

Now imagine these techniques used in service design. What if you could pick a live representative, someone who you think you’d feel comfortable talking with. Or it could even be a sales representative, someone to provide information in real time, swap links and next steps could be followed through with e-mails or possible automated ways to close the sale.

What I think is happening on the Web is very human. While we look toward trends like “cloud computing” it’s essential to understand what’s happening here. Sometimes, as human beings we don’t want human assistance, like for example if we’re checking out savings account or just need some cash from an ATM. In other instances, we are looking for a genuine human connection, and the Web spurred on by the advent of social networks is beginning to show signs of how this could possible be delivered. So in addition to human to computer interaction, we have human to human interaction enabled through technology.

So what’s new is old again. Maybe it’s tribal, maybe we’ve been starved for authentic human contact, or maybe the cycle is just coming full circle. People need people—it’s a basic human truth. And the Web is beginning to look more human every day.