Published on: January 5, 2010by Michael Sansolo
It’s going to sound blasphemous to say this on an Internet site, but technology has its limits and we had better understand that sooner rather than later. During the recent one-week break here at MNB, three events had me focused on this position.
First, as you probably all read, there seemed to be a spate of drivers getting lost in Oregon while in really difficult places thanks to faulty directions from the GPS systems in their cars. Honestly, I love GPS systems, especially their ability to adjust directions when I constantly ignore my Tom-Tom’s advice. (There needs to be a system for native New Yorkers that has a much harsher voice reminding me what a jerk I was for missing a specific turn. Then I’ll listen)
But truth be told, I’m not a slave to my GPS. Before any trip of length, I’ll still look at a map (on Google, of course) to familiarize myself with the basics of the trip. The folks who ended up in the wilds of the Oregon mountains clearly didn’t think of this step. They should have.
Second, there was a marvelous interview in Newsweek with Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and one of her more renowned predecessors, Henry Kissinger. As well as discussing the incredibly complex nature of the job, Clinton and Kissinger talked about the rigors of almost non-stop travel. Clinton said the travel surprised her because she expected to visit more places and people virtually. That hasn’t been the case at all.
“In fact it’s almost as though people are more desirous of seeing someone in person,” Clinton said. In other words, in a time when an electronic chat is so simple, the power of a face to face meeting takes on an even greater sense of importance. It’s almost counter-intuitive, yet it makes a stunning amount of sense. The more electronic and casual we get, the more the power of a more difficult form of communication, like a handwritten letter, a personal visit or a face-to-face chat at a conference.
(Kissinger also offered an incredible thought on priorities. He said one of the biggest challenges is making certain urgent issues don’t crowd out important issues. The latter are the key part of the long-term strategy, he said, even while the former require immediate attention.)
What brought this all together was, of course, a trip to the local supermarket with my discerning wife. The recently remodeled store now features three ways to checkout: with a cashier, self-scanners or wand scanners shoppers can cart around the store. After completing our trip with the wand, my wife asked me exactly why that technology is a good thing.
As you might expect, I launched into a review of all the benefits in costs, in changing the experience and even in the growing number of shoppers who simply like to play with new cool gadgets. (One friend of ours has become wildly enthusiastic about this store simply because of the scanner wands.)
What’s more, I explained, many shoppers no longer like to interact with the cashiers. And that’s where my wife turned the argument. In her opinion the cashiers in this store are actually great and the single best reason to shop the store. The cashiers tend to be experienced, knowledgeable and helpful. With the wands she sees the store surrendering its single biggest competitive advantage.
And just like that, my wife explained the complex relationship we need to strike with technology. We need technology for so many reasons, but only if we remember technology is still a tool to enhance what we do, just as Secretary Clinton has found with personal visits and no doubt the drivers in Oregon wished they had thought of earlier.
For years, futurists and sociologists have talked about the need to meld high tech with high touch. The more enamored we get with our gadgets, the more we need to remember that.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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