What Is Humane Tech?
by Dave McRobbie, Digital Strategist

What Is Humane Tech?

When technology is used in a way that enhances our capabilities and doesnt exploit our vulnerabilities, this can build a positive future for business and society.

Digital strategist, Dave McRobbie, shares his perspective of how the role of humane tech can become prominent for us all and we can all strive to fight within a healthier landscape.

A Definition 

As an explanation, humane tech represents an idea that creates socially responsible technology that doesnt take advantage of the user. Dave explains, It is a mutual relationship between us (the people) and tech, where one is not completely controlling the other.”

Researcher, author and professor, Don Norman says, tech moves quickly, people move slowly,are we all now at such a pace where it is impossible to slow down? Dave recognises this is very true today, It is safe to say that we are not going to slow down. What Covid-19 has presented is an underlying drive and need to speed (supercharge) up the economy creating the desire and craving for AI, digital transformation and machine learning, where ‘outputs’ can be achieved faster than people. Whether these outputs are ‘better’ is debatable, however, and when we recognise that we as humans are not wired to act and behave at the speed we are forcing ourselves to travel – we create the potential for significant challenges.”

Quell The Distraction

An imbalance is also prominent where continual distraction is all around us. Dave says, People say they have had enough of Twitter or Facebook, so try and find another platform to deviate to. But as we all know this is difficult to do – social media’s business model is predicated on causing distraction and gaining attention – you only need to look at LinkedIn’s recent attempt at stories to see this reinforced. 

But we cant be in a constant state of distraction, it’s exhausting, divisive and ultimately confusing. How can we ever work out who we are and what we want to do in those states? And the same goes for businesses – on the world of commerce, we need to work out who we are as businesses and the role we serve to our customers, otherwise, it becomes a constant progression to introduce something new, but may not necessarily be right.”

In a recent article, Jenny Lewis highlighted the distractions that underpin many companies, Jenny said, For businesses where transactions are their main focus, naturally conversion metrics represent a benchmark for success. However, we need to make a rational connection between what is being measured and the realities of what is really happening. Time on site and A/B testing are great metrics, but dont necessarily tell you the full story.”

When a business acknowledges the role that tech delivers but doesnt forget the role that people play, read our article here, there presents a balance. Dave says, A real challenge is that many businesses dont really care about privacy, they are preoccupied with collecting the data – I mean how many of us really believe it when a website and brand states ‘We care about your privacy’ in a pop-up then tries to confuse you over which button to click. This is how businesses are then driven into a world of attention-grabbing. My hope is where businesses develop a model that isnt based on distracting users and customers, but an emphasis on creating a business that respects their audience. This represents creating a product or service that is there when people need it.”

An approach that Dave looks to where there is real opportunity is an investment in connection driven design. Dave explains, On one side businesses are designing for attention. This represents a model built on paid for advertising to monetise ‘eyes on the site’. Connection driven design has a focus on business respecting people visiting, signing up, spending and recognising ways to build a rapport with their customer base. For instance, what starts as respecting someones data and privacy, as a relationship forms there can be a willingness to provide more.”

As an example, People Matter is designed to lead human understanding and tech to design wellness solutions. Dave comments, When people sign up they are given the option to answer some questions. If people dont want to answer, thats ok, they can leave it there. With a mental health platform, people have to feel comfortable. The point to emphasise here is the focus not on obtaining data but asking people how they want to establish an ongoing relationship.” 

An Encouraging Future

The future provides hope and a shift in behaviour. Dave looks at tech as a mountain range, he says, “As an example, with social media, we reached a peak around 2013 where it was universally recognised as a platform that could shine a light on situations that might have been brushed to the side, since then we could argue that we’ve started to rapidly descend down the other side of the mountain.

Dave sees another peak that will be driven by the use and responsibility of younger generations. Younger audiences are well aware of the harm of tech, just as much as they are equally aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. They can see the potential for what it is and understand the impact of human behaviour on every aspect of life from the environment, education and class divide. The ability to stand up for what is right and make a direct change for the future for others presents the case for humane tech within our lives.” 

Humane tech recognises the importance to understand and respect each other’s lives. 

Manipulation, polarisation and coercion have no role to play, but there are still many challenges to face. What can be achieved is the drive to restore a healthy relationship between humans and technology.

Whether in business or in our everyday lives, we all have a role to play and fight for a healthier society to be a part of.

UX Consultant Emma Peters

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