Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Are technological advances good for us?

I'm sure anyone hearing that would say "What a moronic question! Of course they are.", but there's a little bit more to it than meets the eye.

I'm sure you've been to a shopping mall, most of which have paid parking with those fancy little machines that only take certain coins and notes [and usually not the ones I happen to have on hand]. One thing I saw the other day, which I haven't seen in a while, is a place with paid parking that still has the little booth with someone sitting inside taking your payment as you leave.

The technology [being the electronic ticketing machine] has almost entirely replaced manual parking attendants, in the space of a few years. But is this a good thing?

Yes, the electronic system has its benefits, but I would have to say these are mostly for the business concerned and not for its customers. Lets look at the facts:

What does the company [I'm referring to the venue, eg a shopping mall] gain?
- More reliability? Yes - machines don't take sick days or days off
- Less labour issues? Yes - no pay disputes, etc
- Information? Yes - reporting on ticket sales, capacity, etc [surely]
- Admin relief? Yes - generally outsourced

So its obvious to say better technology is great for the business!

What does the customer gain?
- Security? No - safer to have people at the booms
- Enjoyment? No - queues to pay can be long, and no smiling face at the booth
- Cheaper? No - not that I've ever seen. Have you?
- Less hassles? No - a person can sort problems out on the spot, a machine can't

We all know - customers are key to the business! So exactly what do customers get from this wonderful technological advance?

And in this lies the hidden value destruction - whereas I might not mind going to a mall and paying for parking when things run smoothly [ie someone in a booth; manual process], I can get incredibly upset when dealing with machines and tickets that don't work. The people add something... something intangible, that the machine can never replace, and in the end, that affects my [as the customer] view of that shopping mall/business/whatever.

And what about for our economy?

Three words - forty percent unemployment.

I accept this is not the only answer. Technology also creates jobs, creates opportunities for growth, changes lives. All I'm saying is, we need to think it through carefully before just pushing ahead.

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