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Technology amplifies our human side, ignore at your peril

July 11, 2018


Albert Einstein once said ‘“I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t for one moment consider myself as somebody who could correct the great physicist. But I think it’s true that this prophecy has not come true.


Whilst at a client site on a coffee machine break with the team we were discussing the paradox that technology has always been viewed by most people as something that will fundamentally change the way that humans act! However in reality it has just magnified our innate human characteristics, it raised a laugh that actually the internet just made us 'more human' which was never seen as the intent.

The findings of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar reinforce the idea that we have retained of our basic biological limits on the numbers of relationships that any human can sustain at 150 people. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number]


This number is centred around the basic needs to exchange social graces, groom to ensure closeness and drive cohesion of human groups.


Humans like to use tools to raise their survival chances.


Another point is that our human predisposition to develop and use tools to alter our environment and add value in the survival stakes has taken us to our highly complex and confusing world we operate in today.


There have been follow up studies that have endorsed the theory in relation to social media relationships.


Technology in all its complexity continues to be the equivalent of the first groups of chimps who figured out that there 'odds' of success in extracting termites for food were increased with a stick.  We are searching for new derivatives of these value adding tools, we have puffed ourselves up and enjoyed the collective glory that we have conquered our environment for our benefit.  If you look from a different perspective it occurred to us (still at the coffee machine) that technological advances have it in fact magnified the human tendencies rather than delivering sustained solutions.


It’s an interesting point and was a neat way of encapsulating a lot of what makes the world of technology and business so interesting. It also begs the question 'so what?' Does it really matter that technology actually magnifies our tool developing desire?


The central point is that for all the advances and complexity that we have at our disposal we are all driven by the same basic human needs and tendencies that have made us successful from Darwin's perspective.


We are still in line with our primate brothers and sisters


We are, and will continue to be, still all sophisticated apes who have just got better at finding and adapting our tools to deliver the results that we want.  We are still a simple pack animal that uses whatever mechanisms are available to communicate with the rest of our pack and signal the extended packs with influence.


We even potentially share the same life stage challenges   [http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/shortcuts/2012/nov/20/diary-chimp-midlife-crisis]


Why is this relevant to anyone dealing with business and technology?


Anyone that has been involved in change will be only too familiar with the difficulties of making people do things differently.  Something that is constant in the field of technology and business is the dynamic ever changing nature of it, driven by our innate human tendency to try and improve things and out inquisitive nature.  This drive is however matched by a general human protection mechanism to adopt change cautiously i.e. human inertia, which has protected us from rushing into situations that were dangerous.


All the technology at our disposal these days has to tap into these needs and deliver something that fulfils these basic 'hard coded' human requirements.  These requirements are not written down they are much more subtle than that, they are just understood and technology evolution take care of the rest [ie the good stuff thrives and the irrelevant or 'bad' stuff withers on the vine!!]


In my experience, here’s what we need to keep in mind:

       •      Don't ignore the people, they are at the heart of what makes technology tick and relevant

       •      Follow your instincts sometimes as they are something that we are all hard coded with and they are your best guide

       •      Don't overrate the completeness of the humans journey of invention and discovery, there is a way to go

       •      Remember that technology doesn't dull this instinct it heightens and magnifies it making it more relevant than ever to appreciate!


I wonder what Einstein would have made of the internet?

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