Leaders Don’t Lose the Human Touch

Not long ago, we had a bunch of kids over to our house one night. They were noisy, and twice I spoke to them about staying quiet. I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. Plus—I had to get up early the next day and wanted to go to bed soon. At 9:30, I was assured the noise would cease. Sometime later, I hit the sack. Evidently the noise continued—because my neighbor opened his front door and yelled at the top of his lungs: “If you don’t stop right now, I’m going to call the cops!”

The next day, I felt horrible and knew I had to make things right. I was embarrassed and treasured my friendship with the neighbor who lived across the street. We’ve known each other for years. So—I walked over and knocked on his door. I heard noise inside and knew he was home. No answer. I rang the doorbell.  Still nothing. Later that day, I called his cell. He didn’t pick up so I left him a voicemail. I offered a huge apology for the noise, asked for his forgiveness and for him to call me back. Others have seen him during the day, since he’s out of work, so we know he’s home. But, he has never called me back.

This illustrates something I’m deeply concerned about in our culture. Somewhere along the way—we’ve lost our ability to connect face to face. My neighbor is either unable or unwilling to face me—even when he knows I simply seek his forgiveness. In times past, neighbors would talk about problems together; calling the police was a last resort. Today, we email our colleagues in the office next to us to complain. In fact, we’d rather talk about someone when we we’re disgruntled than to them. We avoid people, even though we’re more connected than ever. High school students text their girlfriend to break up. Texts are now more frequent than phone calls in the U.S. We’d rather tweet or Facebook or I.M. than talk face to face. It’s easier. No hassles. No EQ necessary. I think we’re getting lazy.

I read yesterday how vending machines are changing to make purchases more…uh, human. Recognizing the need for a human touch, “dream machines” will be launched soon. According to Dan Matthews, COO at the National Automatic Merchandising Association, “We now have machines that look and act like iPads.” Pepsico has a prototype with a touch-screen that’s interactive. People can “gift” a beverage to a friend by entering their name and mobile number. You can even personalize it with a short video. The largest vending machine company, Crane, has created “talking” machines where you can interact with several machines, making a number of purchases, but paying once when you are finished. Sounds cool to me.

Sadly, however, this won’t fix the problem. We’re still interacting more with machines than humans. We can still be lazy. Eventually, will we lack the backbone to experience healthy confrontation, to seek or offer forgiveness when needed or to hold redemptive conversations? Is our empathy for people dropping, too?

In a world of ATMs and automated check out counters, I must admit technology does make life easier. But it also causes me to atrophy in my relational skills and my emotional connection with vendors. This is leading some supermarkets to restore old-fashioned conversations by eliminating the machines that let you checkout without talking to a human. It will cost them more money—but it will cost them more in human capital if they didn’t do it.

What do you think? Am I over concerned about this? Should I just enjoy technology and not worry about the human touch?


Leaders Don’t Lose the Human Touch