The View From Here – We should always weigh the cost against the convenience when going digital

Tom Henihan

When one needs to complain or voice frustration, talking to a robot or digital avatar does not seem the best way of venting one’s annoyance.

Like anything emotional, complaints need another person or at least another sentient being from whom one can solicit a response or reach a resolution.

Money, in spite of all the clichés such as “it doesn’t make us happy,” “money talks” or “everyone has their price,” the fact is that just about everyone spends the greater part of their life trying to earn money or acquire wealth.

Money or the lack of it plays a huge role in everybody’s life.

If money possesses any virtue, and by money, I mean notes, coins real currency, that virtue is that it forces people to relate to one another and interact socially.

When exchanging real money for goods or services it is necessary to meet the person you are doing business with and at that time, decide if that person is likeable, trustworthy and that trust is based primarily on how we interact and relate to that individual.

Whether it is purchasing a car, a household appliance or having the house painted, the interpersonal dynamic of two or more individuals is fundamental to the notion of trust and to some level of negotiation. The deal isn’t rigid, it is fluid and humanized.

As the late British writer, Douglas Adams said, “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.”

British bank Natwest, which is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland, is now using a digital avatar with a human face to answer customers’ questions and deal with their complaints.

In an “inspired” effort to humanize the inanimate and further dehumanize humanity, the avatar has been given the name Cora.

In Sweden, now the most cashless society in the world where 36 percent of the population never use cash more than a couple of times a year, the Swedes have discovered that this rapid change is having unforseen negative consequences.

The rate of transition to cashless exchanges in that country is now jeopardizing the infrastructure that supports the use of cash, which poses serious implications for the poor and the elderly. All these digital initiatives happen in the name of efficiency and convenience:

Efficiency is a killer of all human interaction because it artificially speeds up our social and economic interactions, and so-called convenience is another mechanism that makes us lethargic in the face of increasing isolation.

Apart from communicating endlessly online: we shop online, we bank online, we get directions from our phone rather than asking passers-by and soon, unless we make a conscious effort to live otherwise, we will have virtually no reason to interact, no premise to meet and communicate daily, and ultimately lose our casual, shared experience and common bonds.

Once these technological doors open, people walk through.

New developments in the use of technology quickly create new norms and railing against the immutable and the inevitable is futile and absurd.

So, it is not about poignantly longing for the past or foolishly wishing for things remain as they are.

It is about moving forward fully aware of the enormous social cost of these technological developments, thrust upon us in the name of efficiency and convenience.

It is about being conscious of all the implications and a little less eager to conform.


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