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The Chicken Or The Egg: Examining The New Dynamic Between Emerging Technologies And Human Social Behaviour

In the opening sentence from his April 2018 Wall Street Journal article The Human Side of Tech: Driving Behavioral Change Jeff Wordham wrote “Technology is relatively easy, as any veteran CIO will tell you. It’s people that are hard.

As a long time techie, I understand very well the sentiment behind these words. However, also having an artistic side, i.e., I am a prolific writer who has in the past dabbled with drawing a rudimentary sketch or two, I understand the human element.

Within the context of this paradoxical relationship between human and technology, the single most important difference between advancements in the past and today’s wearable-tech world comes down to a simple question; which one is influencing the other?

Along the lines of the old chicken or the egg riddle, is today’s technology changing human social behavior or unlike in the past is human social behavior-changing technology?

According to Wordham, collapsing under the weight of rapid technological change, there has been a shift from the traditional “technology-first approach” in which people were forced to adapt to innovative breakthroughs – my Mom’s defiant resistance to using an ATM being one example, to a “people-first approach.”

Smarter Technology

In today’s world where the shaping of technology is driven by how we work, live, and make decisions it is our thought process that is at the core of technological advancement. After all, with the inundation of the new tech that bombards our everyday consciousness the best way to move beyond the “analysis paralysis” dilemma is to simplify the complex. Or to put it another way, if it takes me more time to understand how to use a new IoT device than to start using it I am moving on to something else.

Despite a few PR bumps on the road, Uber is a perfect example of smarter technology in that its development was reflective of the way that people want personal transportation to work as opposed to introducing technology that enhanced the way it did work.

With the shift from tech influencing people to people influencing tech, those organizations that provide technology that adapts to the way we want to do things as much as it changes the way we do it will have the greatest influence and impact on human social behavior.

Based on my research, here are two areas that validate the above premise.

Healthcare: Managing Information Overload

In my June 2018 article Why home health care is the next great business in Canada, I referred to a World Economic Forum white paper indicating that if you were born in 2007, you have a 50-percent chance of living to the ripe old age of 104.

Because we are living longer, it is inevitable that there would be an increasing focus on the quality of these extended years including our relationship with healthcare professionals such as doctors.

During a panel discussion a few years ago for which I was the moderator, IACCM President Tim Cummins talked about this change regarding healthcare when he said that “in the past, if we woke up feeling “under the weather” we would call a doctor. Today if we wake up feeling ill the first thing we are likely to do is to Google our symptoms.”

Beyond our preliminary self-diagnostic efforts, the impact of having this information so readily available at our fingertips has changed our interactions with doctors. Instead of being dependent on the doctor to diagnose and prescribe treatment and thereby follow their direction without question, we are now more likely to challenge our physician’s prognosis. This change in the doctor-patient dynamic can be problematic as having more information does not mean we have the right information. It also means that our expectations of treatment protocols including speed and convenience make us more demanding towards our healthcare professionals.

Of course, other emerging technologies including smartwatches that measure our heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygenation levels are both a blessing and a curse in that while they can help us to be more cognizant of our body functions, they can also cause unnecessary concern or provide a sense of false assurance.

Finding the balance between too much information and expert healthcare consultation so that we can make informed decisions regarding our health is the key. That said, there is no doubt that technological advancement in healthcare will continue to have a significant impact on our lives and behavior.

Education: Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Not surprisingly, another area of human interaction on which emerging technologies will have a significant impact is education.

To start a December 27th, 2017 Business Insider article regarding the way that technology is shaping the future of education, suggests that rather than replacing or undermining the role of teachers, technology will augment it. At least according to the CEO of Silicon Schools Brian Greenberg.

Explaining that technology is “really just a means to an end,” Greenberg states that it is a tool that provides teachers with “more data available to track each classroom’s progress,” as well as provide educators “with increasing insight into how their students are struggling.”

This ability to intervene not only enhances the effectiveness of the teacher; it strengthens the relationship between student and educator as it enables a more personalized and targeted learning experience.

Of course in the digital age, we have also come a long way from the days of correspondence schools. My wife who is in the honors program for forensic psychology at Carleton University is completing her second year spring semester online. At 47 and with four young children, having the option to pursue a degree via the Internet is convenient. However, what makes it work is the technology that enables her to interact in real-time with fellow students as well as taking exams and view lectures as if she were on campus.

Now here is the irony. Based on my research for a paper on digital transformation despite being technologically savvy, it is the millennial generation who feel that the “social interaction that comes with being in class with their peers” matters most.

Finding The Balance

The above examples are by no means the only areas in which emerging technologies are having an impact. How we navigate the roads with Google Maps or find entertainment at our fingertips as well as many other areas are worthy of discussion as well.

That said, achieving the balance between technological advancement and human behavior as opposed to a unilateral dictate is one of the main reasons why transformation or change in the digital age is likely different from any other period of innovation in the past.