The Victory of Machines over Humans

Have you ever seen a business website? A business website is a machine that represents the business. Today, many people – most of all young people – prefer to interact with websites versus interacting with humans. Before you leap to conclusions about what this may mean, please consider the following scenario.

Let’s say you need to buy a household appliance, and you are considering two alternative approaches: Either (1) go to an „IRL“ appliance store and talk with a human salesperson; or (2) go to a website and interact with a machine programmed by „web developers“ * (who are, in essence, also the company’s representatives). In order to make the comparison fair, let’s say that the first thing the IRL appliance store salesperson says is „please give me your address book with all of your contacts’ names and phone numbers“. How would you react? Do you consider the private contact information of family, friends and acquaintances a private matter? Do you think asking for this data is a suitable request for the appliance store salesperson to make? If you answered „No“ then I think we agree – yet this is precisely what happens in many cases in which young people prefer to use their smartphones versus interacting with another human being.

Someone who is naive and quick to jump to conclusions might argue how this is a great victory for „technology“. I, on the other hand, feel it is more like direly lacking literacy on the part of many young humans. Note that I also feel I am giving these humans the benefit of the doubt in this case, because if they were not lacking literacy skills, it would mean that they are not only lacking in social skills, but also that they are so self-centered that they apparently think so little – or indeed nothing – of handing out some of their closest friends’ private information to companies hungry to sell that information to the highest bidders in order to reap a quick and easy profit.

Perhaps there are some who might say „but I don’t want to bother other people with questions that can easily be answered by looking up text documents.“ I agree – yet that is also not the point. The point is that these illiterate people apparently lack the technical expertise (which I refer to as „literacy“) to be able to look up information without violating their own privacy – and also their personal contacts’ private information.

  • Note that „web developers“ is actually a misnomer if the developers are only responsible for the development of the company’s website – if that is in fact the case, then they ought to be called „website developers“.
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