Keep in touch
Do you know what Aristotle and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? Although 2800 years separate the Greek philosopher from the Californian entrepreneur, they share a belief. See for yourself.
One of Aristotle's most famous quotes is the following: Man is a social animal. The subtitle is that it is contact and interaction between individuals that creates our humanity.
The original promise of Facebook, always displayed on the platform's home screen, is: Share and stay in touch with those around you.
It is this vision of a "contact society", a priori necessary for our collective and personal development, that we find interesting to question, at a time when 4.7 billion human beings are confined to their homes, drastically reducing interactions.
Social distancing, the only effective remedy for the progression of the pandemic, is currently based on a new organisation. A 'contactless' society, where it is no longer human contact but technology that is essential for survival.
In the physical sciences, contact is also an area of friction. By reducing friction, technology has accelerated processes where human contact was just an unpleasant, often dehumanised step. Think, for example, of the moment when you queue up at the shipping department to obtain a new car registration document.
This technology of simplification, of fluidity, has been extended and is changing our lives. Have a business meeting? Eat a chef's meal? Buy new sneakers? Find our way home? Make a new friend? Enjoying ourselves ? Learn a new language ?
There's an app for that !
These zero-touch mechanisms, on a purely pragmatic level, have made our society more resilient, our businesses more efficient and our lives more productive.
This trend is accelerating every day, driven by the advent of artificial intelligence and big data. Technology is now taking on attributes previously reserved for humans. Memory, prediction, conversation, emotion, humour, etc. An autonomous artificial intelligence that simulates, to date still partially, human interaction. Zora, a Franco-Japanese robot, is already present in a thousand health establishments around the world to interact with senior citizens.
The fantasy of a virtual life richer than real life is widely exploited in science fiction. In 2009, the film Clone, starring Bruce Willis, depicts a society in which each individual, sitting in an armchair at home, lives through an avatar, necessarily younger and more beautiful, in a virtual world. Dystopia? Less and less so... Clones with Bruce Willis.
Reconnecting with reality
This contactless society challenges our deepest nature. And this is where Aristotle and Zuckerberg fundamentally diverge.
A connection is not a contact. Nobody has several hundred friends.
Studies have shown how necessary real interactions are for human mental health. Even "small talk" - conversations between strangers in a lift about the weather - develops empathy and refocuses us on the present moment* (Dr. Justine Coupland - Small Talks).
Another example is the Blue Zones. These are very specific areas where the proportion of centenarians is significantly higher than average. There are five of them in the world, from Okinawa in Japan to Nicoya in Costa Rica and Sardinia. Although the cultures are very different, this longevity can be explained by a healthy diet based on fish, fruit and vegetables, a daily physical activity linked to work, and above all, a strong feeling of belonging to a community. They are small villages with a rhythm of collective activities.
Can technology serve communities and 'augment' real interactions between individuals in the spirit of 'Blue Zones'?
Yes, technology is not necessarily a vector of individualism and isolation. For example, the "sharing economy" is an organisation of relationships, made possible by technology. Being hosted by locals who play along on Airbnb is a richer human interaction than checking into a hotel chain.
Similarly, a customer journey with multiple touchpoints necessarily involves a human interface. This touchpoint can be enriched by customer knowledge and the online customer journey. A shop assistant who knows me can serve me better and develop a relationship with me based on my interests, which generates trust.
Listening to music on headphones on a virtual platform does not prevent great moments of collective communion at festivals. And let's not forget that real life and its frictions favour serendipity. Those things that we find without having looked for them. Love, for example. In a carpool, or in a queue?
This is perhaps the major challenge of technology in the service of a society of contact. Giving more value to our interpersonal exchanges, and above all putting the human link back into social distancing, is more topical today than ever. The balance between technology and humanity, whether desired or forced, will be achieved naturally.
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