Staying Human in a Digital World

I have recently read Nick Harkaways book “The Blind Giant” and found it a fascinating, engaging and eye-opening read. It makes you realise that we must not forget that those who follow us, will be born into a purely digital society, where eBooks and augmented reality will have gone from exotic to everyday. In The Blind Giant, Nick Harkaway, considers whether this new world of ours will be a place of purpose or hellish.

Some of Nick’s arguments about what could lie ahead seem a little extreme, a little affiliated to “Minority Report” but we cannot ignore that as more and more of how we consume and deliver content is not only digital by nature, often it’s out of necessity, not choice – and that trend is likely to continue. Ultimately, Harkaway makes the case that technology is like any other tool: neither a good or bad thing, except in how we use it.

Reading this book opened my eyes not only to the future of digital in our world but also the present. Technology, software and the devices we use have of course shaped our social and human behavior on a number of levels, from shopping, to leisure, to business. Lives are lived online, and the opportunity to have a live feed into the minds of those you care about is becoming a clearer reality. People are more willing to share and consume horizontally through their social networks, rather than vertically. The organic spread of ideas, relationships, and trade can now be observed and measured on scales of unprecedented detail.

Amongst all the positive aspects of instant global communication, accessibility of information, improved efficiency and the potential for learning, it is clear that there are negative “de-humanisning” aspects of the Digital World now and this will likely continue in the future. People see less of other people, there can be a lazy attitude inherited as a result.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to highlight how in the context of businesses to consumers, organisations can act, appear and deliver more human aspects of behaviour both through and alongside their digital communications to complement each other.

As more and more businesses advertise, show and deliver pre – sale and post – sale communications online, there is no doubt that they have had to adapt to a world of highly concentrated digital consumption. This though can deliver opportunities to show human connection through and alongside digital. For example an online retailer can still bring visible human aspects to their business. They can:

  • Show the people within the business on their website and LinkedIn page etc,
  • Personalise their twitter with a unique or range of staff administrators assigned to social media, giving a personal tone to the messages and responses
  • Ensure sales and support emails are from staff addresses and use appropriate signatures
  • Deliver video and audio content to connect with the audience on real terms and improve brand personality.
  • Personalise emails both through whom it is addresses but also based on preferences.

A high street retailer that also has an “inevitable” online presence can also humanise their consumer’s digital experience as well as complement the real in store experience by:

  • Promoting specific exclusive offers and promotions online but only available in store to drive footfall
  • Building knowledge of the online offering amongst staff to help deliver sales and consumer loyalty
  • Use social media to help profile the products, local team(s) and staff to consumers
  • Have staff actively engage with customers online
  • Ensure telephone numbers are clearly promoted online.

I think we all know the inevitability of an increased trend for more digital consumption and communication out of necessity due to rapidly evolving commercial, media and interpersonal landscapes. But this doesn’t mean we have to be any less human. It’s about balance. We must continue to act, sound and appear human even online and I hope that the norm isn’t that we get lazy and devalue personal contact by default over a more convenient digital equivalent or alternative.

Google Glass is an example worth noting. This technology due to launch next year has the potential, for us to act more human, from the perspective that our digital media consumption can be consumed whilst interacting visually and in body with the real world. An argument to this though is that we may as users of the product, disconnect from the real world as we focus on what the heads up display is communicating to us. The latter is a de-humanising effect, (well… based on our definition of human behaviour) but perhaps a new set of human and social behavioral attributes need to defined “the norm” in light of communication and technological advances and trends.

Related to this discussion from a social media perspective is a really good Q&A worth checking out with Nicholas Christakis from the TED series, entitled: “Our modern, connected lives.” It’s interesting as it raises many points around the our influence and behaviour driven by our modern connected online social experiences. It’s a well-balanced series of responses to topics of friendship, social influence and even online dating from a real world vs digital perspective.

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