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Humanity Vs. Technology?

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Some people would have us believe that our society is losing its sense of humanitythat the furious pace of modern day life is robbing us of the compassion, politeness and mutual respect that many feel characterized us in bygone years. And the culprit is demon technology.

Todays technology experience is certainly emblematic of such sentimentswith nameless, faceless computers taking the place of humans, especially in business settings. Computers have no feelings, no empathy, no vitalityno humanity. Theres no emotional appeal to such soulless entities. Yet we are forced to deal with them in every area of life.

In the world of Star Trek, future generations have taken the computer to its logical apex, fashioning it to look and function as much as possible like a human. One such android, Lt. Commander Data, is an entity who looks human (despite some really bad makeup), sounds human, performs human functions and is, uh, anatomically correct. The one thing the android builders havent been able to solve, however, is making this creation act human, in terms of emotions.

And poor Mr. Data longs to be humanto love and be loved, to laugh and to cry, to experience the full range of experience that characterizes humanity. There are attempts to remedy his condition with a so-called “emotion chip,” but even that doesnt seem to get things just right. Ironic, isnt it, that the animated pinnacle of technology wanted only to be perfectly humanthat is, imperfect?

But getting back to us 21st Century humans, a recent article in Psychology Today reports on a study that concluded that communicating via e-mail alone can doom a business relationship. It compared two groups of students who negotiated a car sale, one communicating via e-mail and the other doing the same thing, but having the opportunity to talk by phone first. Predictably, those who talked first were more likely to reach an agreement than the other group. In addition, those who never spoke often felt resentful and angry about the negotiation.

The idea was that those who had spoken had an opportunity to get to know each other better and interact on a more personal level, thus they felt more comfortable doing business with each other. That sounds reasonable, until you ask yourself how business got done before there was e-mail, and even before there were telephones.

Wonder of wonders, people actually wrote business letters to each other. They didnt seem alienated by the fact that they might never have seen or talked to the other party. Somehow, all that personal-level stuff had to be communicated in writing on paper, and somehow people managed to do just that. So, we have to ask ourselves why that doesnt work today with e-mail, which, after all, is just mail sent faster.

The answer, quite simply, is a lack of good upbringing, training or both. When I was in high school, one of the things we were required to learn was how to write a business letternot just the proper form, but the proper tone of the greeting, message and sign-off. That tone was businesslike, to be sure, but it was also professional. When you got a properly written business letter, you felt valued and respected as a person and as a potential business partner.

The truth is that today we are often too lazy to do the little things in our e-communication that set the emotional stage for our business relationships. Ive gotten dozens of e-letters from public relations professionalspeople who should know betterthat simply launch into a hard-core sales pitch without so much as a greeting.

Is it so difficult to begin a letter with “Dear Mr. Trembly”? If thats too old-fashioned, how about something more contemporary, like “Yo, dog”? And call me a traditionalist, but the brief yet many-faceted “Dude!” does the job just fine for me.

Whatever your preference, however, its nice to be greeted and to get an introductory sentence or two. At least I know theres a human being on the other end of that communication who is trying to be polite and respectful.

If we are indeed losing our humanity, it isnt because technology has helped communications get faster. Rather, we have chosen to use technology as a convenient excuse for our own sloth and lack of empathy. We need to return to teaching concepts like basic politeness and respect for others in our schools.

But, you say, what if a childs parents dont believe in politeness and respect? Heaven forbid that we should trample on that poor kids constitutional right to be raised as an obnoxious boor. It reminds me of those parents who refuse to rein in a screaming toddler in public because they think it will stifle the childs “creativity” or shake his or her fragile self-esteem. Meanwhile, the rest of society sustains hearing damage.

To this and other such postmodern poppycock, I say, “Rubbish!” If we want to perpetuate humanity, we must teach it, and we must live it.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 22, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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