Humanity, Community and Automation

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We talk boldly about the benefits of reducing low skilled jobs and automating repetitive processes, but we mustn’t lose sight of the human value of ‘micro-interactions’. It is in these small moments of kindness or service that we experience and connect with the human communities in which we live.

The introduction of entering your registration number when you buy a car park ticket was widely seen as an attempt to end the tradition of passing your parking ticket on to another user when you had finished but there was still ‘an hour or so’ on it. In this way, somebody who had paid to park for four hours, but had only parked for two, could gift their remaining time to somebody else. It’s probably possible to argue both sides of the rights and wrongs with that as a practice, but the more interesting question is what limiting a ticket to a single user means.

It may have only taken a few seconds, but choosing to gift the remaining time on a ticket to another person – almost always a stranger – would involve a brief exchange, a smile, a thank you and a positive experience for both parties. It was never going to change anybody’s day, but it was a moment – an instant – in which you connected with somebody else. The same could be said of buying something from a salesperson in a shop, checking your bank balance with a cashier, paying a bus driver, or ordering a book from a bookshop: all previously human interactions that, although brief, were some kind of momentary connection with another person in the community.

In a busy city, it is now perfectly possible to spend an entire day purchasing, consuming, communicating, working and commuting without making eye contact with a single human being. If you don’t believe me, try it, it is incredibly easy.

It may be that in developing relationships through tech we are changing how we connect with the communities in which we live. It may be that our human interactions are simply becoming narrower but of higher quality. There is a risk though that ever further steps towards automation moves us as individual human beings away from each other.

When I talk about the need to redefine productivity this is exactly what I’m talking about. If we are going to use productivity as one of our key navigational tools in building the future, we need it to refer to more than simply top line growth and bottom line profit against input. We need to consider how productive an option is likely to be on measures such as wellbeing, social cohesion, sustainability and community. The 4th Industrial Revolution isn’t about us working differently, it is about us thinking about ourselves differently, and there is nothing outside of our own conscious decisions that will prevent our human sense of community getting lost.

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