A Little of that Human Touch

January 21, 2016

- Peter Czyryca, Boston

2016 is here, and with it, a fresh start. The New Year has always been romanticized as ushering in a clean slate, full of hope and promise. I particularly like this quote from English author, Neil Gaiman:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something."

“What you’ll find virtually no one talking about is how infinitely valuable the human touch is becoming in our society.”

Wipe away that wistful smile. Hope, change and promise, meet disruption. The smart machines are coming.

By definition, to disrupt means to interrupt a process or event, so I’m of the mind that those perpetuating the term are guilty of making up a synonym for progress or innovation. At the very least, it’s an extremely negative connotation to associate with something that is meant to mean an improvement upon the way things were prior to the disruptor’s arrival.

Were trains a disruption to horseback, or were they a quicker way to get to your destination? Did Uber disrupt taxi service or did it offer travelers convenience and a cheaper alternative? In both instances, the process of travel was enhanced, not interrupted.

Academics and think tanks, would have us believe that the end days of humanity are here, at least as it relates to jobs. First they came for the blue collar jobs, and now, white collar jobs are at risk. A 2013 paper out of Oxford University posits that 47% of U.S. jobs are susceptible to technological automation and digitalization. Computerworld reported a Gartner analyst’s belief that by 2030, the U.S. will reach 90% unemployment due to ‘smart machines’ replacing just about all human tasks.

Surely a technological revolution is here to stay. I won’t argue that point. As I write this on an Amtrak Acela train to New York from Boston, everyone has their faces buried in mobile devices or computers. Progress means discovering faster and cheaper ways to accomplish tasks, a fact proven throughout human history.

What you’ll find virtually no one talking about is how infinitely valuable the human touch is becoming in our society.

It’s evident when you’re caught in endless loops of robotic customer service, desperate to speak with a human. It becomes clear when your Wifi connection fails and you suddenly can’t be productive, or when your brokerage website fails and you need to execute a trade. And has anyone ever made it through a self-checkout at the grocery store without having to summon the human checkout assistant on duty?

It’s also very true in the working world. I see it daily in my world of public relations. You need a little of that human touch.

Reporters, like all of us, are suffering from information overload. I’m sure the average reporter at a major daily receives upwards of 75 story pitches per day. How do you cut to the front of the line, stand out and be heard? Get to know them. Personally, over lunch or drink, or even just over the phone. Anything is better than being one more email crowding their inbox.

As our world continues its transition, the people you know and interact with will become more invaluable than ever before. Machines and technology will continue to improve our lives, in ways unthinkable and unknowable at present. But like the Boss says, the answers will lie in the human touch.

"You might need somethin' to hold on to
When all the answers they don't amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch."