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.