From Humans to Humachines?

Technology needs to be a friend and not a master or slave

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A shoe shop in Cologne, Germany

The world is going through a technology explosion. It is hard to imagine a single moment without technology. Though we humans created these machines that automate many of our activities in our everyday lives, we are slowly becoming ‘second class’ citizens where we are at the mercy of technology. We are slowly becoming slaves of technology. We are becoming humachines, people who are controlled by technology. Our processes are also designed in such a way that they put technology at the center and the human haplessly working for technology.

It is not uncommon to see a whole family looking at their phone screens at an airport or even inside a house as in the picture below. It is hard to get people off their smartphones whether they are at home, on the bus/train or in their workplaces. When we drive the cars, it is the same. It is the GPS that takes us wherever we want. I have found my friends not able to remember any road and relying only on GPS. They can’t take their eyes off the GPS screen as they may miss a signal or an intersection and have to take a long way back. Kids need a calculator for everything. They cant do even simple multiplications. If a washing machine or a car or internet breaks down, then our life comes to a standstill. If we don’t have WiFi in a hotel, we get furious.

I was in Nice in France last November and as we got into the city, we got into a McDonald’s to get a quick lunch. It has been a while since I went to a McDonald’s and surprisingly, there was no counter staff taking orders. We were told to place our order in the vertical screens placed at the entrance and bring only the receipt with the order number. 

We were 5th or 6th in the queue and I was observing the staff doing the work. He was looking at the screen, taking a burger or a fries, putting on the plate and repeating it many times. When my time came, I thanked him but he had no time to look at me and he was so focused on his work. I felt so bad for him as he was like a slave to the ‘screen’ and as you can see in the last pic on the right below, he had no time to look at the customers. If he spends a min or two smiling at customers, the machines will give him tremendous stress because he would have been pointed by the machines that he is not doing his job properly.

It was not a random case. Last week, during my travels, I went with my son to buy a shoe for him in a shop in the city center in Cologne, Germany. The shoe shop had all kinds of brands and my son liked a Puma shoe. When the salesgirl asked what is his foot size, my son suggested that she bring both 38 and 39 (black color) so that he can check both and choose the right one. She used an electronic device to order the product and it got displayed on a screen (see pic below).

As you can see in the screen below, the salesgirl placed an order for black color 38 and 39 sized shoes. When we asked any question about other products, she was avoiding it and gave one-word answers. She basically was not keen on any conversation as she could be new to the job or was nervous or she could be thinking that all the information was on the screen for us to see and know. When the shoes came after 15 mins, they had gotten one olive green color shoe of size 38. I immediately said NO and walked away. It was an awful wait, awful experience and had no human interaction. The shop had overly relied on technology and compromised the experience.

In the McDonald’s case, neither there was any ‘experience’ for the customer nor was there any job satisfaction for the employee. The customer had to order to a machine, get his order from a humachine (a human who only looks at the machine) go to the seating area to eat, dispose the food and leave the outlet. The shop doesn’t provide a human interaction at all from the time one enters the shop to the time one leaves the shop. So humans (customers and employees) are getting frustrated while the machine makes them both do the job.

I have always believed that technology needs to work for us and not the other way around. Today, in every walks of life, technology is making humans work. Not all but most of them. It is time that we realize that we are becoming slaves of technology. We need not make technology a slave but rather a friend who can complement us and help us get enriching experiences.

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