Will Technology Save Us – or Ruin Us?

Two articles this week take apparently opposite views on this – although on reflection both probably just say that there are factors that can prevent technology from helping. I think the save us viewpoint wins out in the end.

Chris Anderson of Wired wrote an article in Newsweek entitled Why Technology Hasn’t Saved Us From Inflation (but still can). It essentially says that technology could have prevented our current problems with energy, the environment, and the economy – but political issues got in the way.

Shelly Palmer wrote a post entitled How Technology Is Costing Companies Millions . . . Maybe Billions . It chronicles an experience with a call centre over a customer loyalty program where a seemingly simple request was met with unthinking humans who could only read canned answers off a script, and a system that apparently could not do a simple task. The experience undid years of goodwill.

Both articles are worth a read. I’ve always been a believer in technology – but also that poorly applied technology can do more harm than good. Too often it is designed and implemented with an inward, rather than customer or user centric focus. The call centre story is a perfect example of that.


  1. The comments in the Anderson piece are more illuminating than the article itself (which seems to boil down to “we’d be able to solve many problems if it wasn’t for those selfish environmentalists!”), in my opinion.

    And, although someone who has a personal assistant and spends $25-35,000 on his credit card every month isn’t the sort of person who would normally generate a great deal of sympathy from me on issues of convenience, I can sympathize with the situation the second article describes (and I imagine a lot of other people would also be able to empathize). Even so, I have to wonder if the banks/credit card companies really do care about losing customers, or if they really lose that many customers to the call-centre phenomenon. Many sectors and industries are dominated by a handful of monolithic corporations, all of which seem to deploy call-centres in this way. So, it’s not like we have the choice to escape the environment. If I was running one of these corporations, I wouldn’t be too worried about this particular source of losses, because it’s quite possible that for every Mr. Rich-Guy that leaves after 20 years, we’re getting someone else’s Mr. Rich-Guy. As long as bullshit is the industry standard, nobody is going to change (especially since it’s much cheaper to offload the costs of poor customer service onto the customers themselves).

  2. Tim, instead of throwing our hands up in the face of poor customer service, we should instead be demanding more competition and free enterprise in those industries dominated by one or two big players. That’s what’s finally happening in the Canadian wireless industry, where, with the recent auction of spectrum leading to the creation of at least one new national wireless carrier. Rogers, a company that has embraced the ‘where else are you going to go?’ mantra, for too long will soon be forced to distinguish itself based on either price or quality of service or both.