technology must complement human behaviour

I like reading Bob Warfield’s smoothspan blog, some of his postings really get my neuron’s firing, today’s more than most. Paraphrasing, Bob was talks about how good search (and recommendation) technology was overcoming the strength of brands. In itself quite insightful, but to me the more interesting theme was human behavioural elements outlined in the post.

It got me thinking. With all the advances and uses of technology we see today, are the only successful ones those that complement existing human traits. In Bob’s post the he mentions two.

First, the traditional behaviour of his kids was to go to brand restaurants. They did this because they knew what they were getting (what the brand stands for), and they got a some brand transference (what they thought they got from being seen in those places).

In the second example, Bob talks about Yelp and its rating engine. I would hazard a guess (and only Bob can answer this) but search, even with the geo-awareness, would have been meaningless without the rating feature. Why? Well the majority (not all) of people don’t like being first…it’s a security thing. In general the unknown unnerves us. Luckily some people are natural first movers, and the rest of us (the thundering herd) need them to show us its safe. I see Yelp as a technology that complements (actually addresses an issue with) human behaviour.  Its kind of surreal in a way. Basically some people you don’t know, have been down this path before and taken the time to do a rating, and that is good enough.

(As an aside, Imagine a system where people you did know and trust did this. How powerful would that be? Interesting.  )

Other examples, mobile phones. Sounds weird, but the change from fixed to mobile telephony was at one point in time, an epiphany. Suddenly folks could call you, no matter where you were…. and we liked that.

Cisco Telepresence is another. Because the experience is so realistic, you get all the nuisance of conversation that is so innately human that it renders travel obsolete. And in this context, getting up early, queuing to check in, herding through security and then being penned in a vehicle for hours on end without moving around….isn’t naturally human.

Instant messenger, was next on my list but that is incorrect. Presence based communication is. Apparently humans like to know that the person they are communicating with is… well there.

SMS is different, I think it fills two requirements. If fills a gap that voicemail doesn’t address.  You open a message and you get the content. Most vmail solutions just tell you you have a vmail, and then you have to do something else  to get the message!  SMS also allows for clandestine type communications, your phone becomes a substitute for other tools of communications… like email and IM.

Unfortunately there are some flaws with this thought. In fact IT is littered with them. The fact that I’m typing right now is a dramatic case in point.  In my life I’ve learned to communicate in three ways… I learned to speak, then write, then type. The absurdity of that is boggling. Speech recognition surely isn’t that difficult? Using writing to text conversion isn't a brilliant system yet either and its the second best alternative! The process of adding a Contact  in outlook is farcical. Why should I have too? You telling me this can’t somehow be automated?

Therein lies the rub. We normalise these absurdities, become desensitised to it everyday.  

So, this post finishes then with a challenge and a hypothesis. Look at the technology you use everyday, if it isn’t human centric, why are you using it ( if you are reading this you are human). I would also suggest to you that making this process or the application of the technology more human centric is an opportunity. We tend to pay for things that we deem valuable.



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