The Price of Technological Progress
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 1, 2012
Over one hundred years ago, Jung predicted man’s struggle with his humanity in the face of industrialization. He wrote quite eloquently about the rise of depression resulting from us struggling to redefine 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 industrialization 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 psychology professor and author, 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, he said 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 London highlighting where we could use Skype calls and making digs at Twitter (e.g. “140 characters doesn’t equal staying in touch,” and my favorite “”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. The HR department who makes an announcement of significant organisational restructuring via a group e-mail – and only via email. (When did it become OK to end personal or professional relationships via e-mail or texts?)
2. The divisional head who lambasts his team via e-mail 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 that insurance is about personal relationships, about people often in times of crisis. Is 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.
This blog has been reprinted with permission from Celent.
Catherine Stagg-Macey is a senior analyst in Celent's insurance practice, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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