What is the true price of technological progress?

Apr 30th, 2012 | Posted by

Over one hundred years ago, Jung predicted man’s struggle with his humanity in the face of industrialisation. He wrote quite eloquently about the rise of depression resulting from us struggling to redefining our self-worth having lost our sense of purpose to the rise of the machines. A century later, we face another wave of technological change that will surely deeply impact society. The Economist outlines the case for the third wave of industrialisation with the introduction of 3D printing in manufacturing. Here at Celent, we’ve been pondering the wonders (and impact on insurance) of growing your own clothes and flying cars.

We should take the time to celebrate and marvel at the ingenuity of man to continuously drive such innovation. Man’s innovation has opened up new ways of working as a society and new opportunities for the individuals within that society. More recent innovation has brought us new ways of communicating, and new tools to do it with.

But Sherry Turkle *, MIT professor makes a great case for the true price of this connectedness. In her research, she interviewed a 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says to her, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation”.

Skype has recently pushed out a huge ad campaign throughout the London tube highlighting where we could use Skype calls, and making digs at Twitter (“140 characters doesn’t equal staying in touch” and my favourite “”When did it become okay to text Mom Happy Birthday?”).

When did we lose the courage to have conversations face to face? As Ms Turkle says, human relationships are messy and demanding but who hasn’t felt the joy of having a truly open and honest conversation with another human being. It’s a poignant moment in mankind’s evolution when we reflect on just how much time we spend giving the right/perfect impression of ourselves to the outside world. Technology allows time to fine tune what we say, to reflect only the joyful and perfect moments in our lives.

I’ve seen this in other aspects of my life and in many ways these are more egregious points. I expect these are familiar to you too:

  1. 1. The HR department who makes an announcement of significant organisational restructuring via a group email – and only via email. (When did it become OK to end personal or professional relationships via email or texts?)
  2. The Divisional head who lambasts his team via email for bad behaviour when it’s really only directed at one team member. (When did it become ok to use technology to be a lousy manager?)
  3. The family at the restaurant who don’t talk to each other over dinner as they are too busy typing into mobile phones, or watching TV on tablets. (When did it become ok not to talk to each other at dinner?)

Another beautiful point made by Ms Turkle is that face to face conversation unfolds slowly and this teaches us patience. It worries me that our attention span seems to get shorter as the years go by. Information needs to be delivered in short sharp chunks otherwise boredom sets in. Can we truly absorb what is going on around us with one eye on the TV and another on the Blackberry?

I expect this post is not what you might expect from a technology analyst. And you are wondering the link to insurance – a mandatory requirement in most of our blogs. But my point is just that – insurance is about personal relationships, about people often in times of crisis. This is personal. Life is messy and imperfect – let us not use technology to recast the world into something it is not. Let’s not trade our humanity for progress.

* Sherry Turkle is a psychologist and professor at M.I.T. and the author of the fascinating “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” Check TED.com for her presentations.

  1. Amit Jain
    Jul 24th, 2012 at 01:15
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Thanks for bringing this up in your blog. The point is surely worth pondering over. Insurers should attempt to see instances where text or email should be replaced by personal touch.

    Regards,
    Amit Jain
    Consultant, NIIT Technologies