I think I am lucky to have the experience before and after the internet, without and with mobile phones, traditional services & digital ones. There is no doubt how technology has enhanced and advanced our way of living and made doing things easier and achievable than before. The simplest example, you won’t be able to read this article from a different place in the world in few minutes after finishing it and translating it into your language and may ask the computer or your phone to read it for you as well.
My job is to help different organizations realizing these digital benefits and realize their digital road map and make it possible. while in this article, I would like to discuss and think with you about the possible implications on us as humans especially in this fast digital race.
I still remember when I was a 10 years old kid at the same age of my son, around 25 years gap between our ages, two and half decades that I would like to use as an analogy between the difference in the experience of my childhood versus my son’s childhood, especially that he lived only this new Information age and he is younger than the cloud computing. I would like to highlight the digital implications using two different anecdotes and discuss with you how the future may look like and if are we becoming robotic humans slowly!
First anecdote: The school journey
I had the privilege to be close enough to my school, I used to walk to school mostly alone or with the companion of my sister or with my school friends. It was fun and safe.
It was a joyful & lovely experience going from home to school and vise versa passing by different markets getting some treats on the way. I enjoyed walking because I shared the way with my friends and had different adventures & activities.
Comparing to my son’s experience, it is very different because he rides a bus every day. Sometimes his mother or I take care of picking him up from or to school. It is safer especially with having the buses equipped now with the tracking system that provides you the ability to observe & track your children’s locations and drivers’ behavior.
My son’s school is not near to our home, and similar to many parents, the selection of schools based on the nearest location is not a priority versus the quality of the school itself and their methodology of educating and teaching children.
Hence, this impacted the children’s experience of being in real-life situations, like crossing streets, buying sweets from the market, taking decisions while going through school journey, that made them far from some real experiences without facing different real-life situations.
Another implication, the school friends became also far from each other, which makes it harder for the children to meet during weekends, or during summer holidays without their parents’ companionship.
During Covid-19, no physical schools and everything become remote and this will continue for a while until the world’s recovery, so I’m wondering how and when the children will have the real experience of living to decrease the gap between the actual life and the virtual life they are in. Especially that schooling is not only for education, but it also provides different benefits for kids which they need to gain while they are growing up, how they will get this life experience of reality in the virtual world and this will lead us to the second anecdote.
Second anecdote: Engagement with friends
During my childhood, I was able to play with my friends anytime and we can meet and go shopping go around play football in the street. We also had at this time only physical phone to communicate, the Internet was not known at this time and it was the early age of personal computers.
I remember that we had the telephone with the answering machine, it was a big add-on feature and luxury to receive recorded messages from friends and family and hear them when we get back home. Sometimes, I didn’t want to delete any message from my friends who sent recorded messages.
Physical landline was the only method to communicate between people when a feature like automatic number identification was introduced, it was very valuable to know who called you when you were away. It was incredible at the time, and we never felt that we weren’t connected to people from either from families or friends.
I remember when the Internet was introduced using dial-ups and modems. It was very slow compared to the current speed of the internet but we didn’t feel that. I used to wait like 5 to 10 minutes to be connected, and some miserable experience and troubleshooting with the modem and phone line. All of these tools were a secondary choice, the first was to meet and go out, stay at someone’s home, or biking together. The neighborhood was our playing area.
On the other side, my son became who was born in the digital age, he is attached to mobile phones and tablets as he does not even touch the physical phones, neither I anymore. He is very confident to have video calls with friends regardless of his surroundings or how he looks. he can easily start recording videos naturally and even acting & speaking in front of the camera. These days, he started requesting to have a dedicated phone to use and set up his social account at the age of 10. It is very easy for him to search and reach the information in seconds and start telling me what he saw and what he liked. When he goes to do different sports, he used to know new friends and make relations with other children quickly.
During COVID-19, despite we are trying to let our kids not bored with filling their time with different activities, but their virtual world became bigger and became their reality as well. Sometimes, when I ask my son, let us go out, he may prefer to stay home, listen to something, watching a movie, or reading a book, while this was not his normal behavior when he was younger.
Children have better access to information and better tools, that increase their level of confidence and awareness. With virtualizing everything, the human experience, and the associated needs become different. I do not know if this will impact their future relationship with their friends and families in the future. But nowadays we are seeing elder people and youth are addicted to mobiles, social media, and online games without any controls, and this already impacted many people who felt alone while they had thousands of friends on social networks. We can notice new behaviors of vblogs that youth are doing to get other people’s attention. So, what will be our children’s future from the new social behaviors changes after 10 or 20 years?
My son is smart and he knew information that I never knew before, sometimes, I learn from him new things, but like a lot of other children at his age, they lack real-life experience. One day, I told him, why do not you buy something from the market and pay the money by yourself to the cashier, he was very excited to do this, it did not go well at the first time, I helped him to accomplish this mission. I decided from that day that I wanted to think more about how to teach him real-life experiences. How to help my son live the real-world experience without also exposing him to danger, how to get the benefits of the two worlds, the virtual and physical world.
I wanted to share this because I think many parents may have the same experience, maybe they do not notice that but according to the research which applies to the Gen Y & Z, they are very confident in their virtual bubble and they get their motivation from the interactions on their social profiles, and when they face the reality of the world, they are shocked and also became fast disappointed, and impatient to outcomes and results.
Connecting the dots
I think you are asking now, how this is related to the title of the road to robotic humans, let me connect the dots here. The world is going digital and remote everything sooner or later, but few leaders who are caring about the human experience and how to manage the implications of getting the digital benefits and its added value, without losing our social dynamics.
Like any crisis, COVID-19 created new human behaviors, fosters new required essential skills, and almost virtualized and remoted everything, for example, remote learning, remote courts, remote work, remote support, …etc.
Many governments, organizations, and companies already responded to the pandemic to increase their employees and customer safety, and they moved their services and products to be obtained virtually and remotely. Most of us heard about the increasing demand for eCommerce, online shopping, and e-payments, most of the services even in the government started to be automated in a shorter time in the response to the pandemic, new work procedures have been introduced.
Many consulting firms foresight that this will be the future way of living after the pandemic and lots of companies started to consider this in their strategies, like closing their stores after seeing an increase on online purchases, closing their offices, as remote work is doable,
Before COVID-19, I loved to have chances working remotely from home or any place, being relaxed and concentrated in the environment that I can be productive in, while at many situations, I believed that working remotely will not help at specific circumstances which required physical contact and presence to deal with the situation face to face. I recognized that even these situations can be handled remotely but not the best experience compared to face-to-face.
At that time, I also enjoyed meeting co-workers, having face-to-face conversations with them, engaging with customers, and building real relationships that can last.
I believe that humans are sensible creatures, we want to feel the surroundings, read the body language, smell the environment, touch things, and feel the gesture, listen to others and see their reactions and how they feel. We cannot be machines or robots that just work, eat, and sleep without living this real sensible experience and try to substitute that with virtual joy and fun moments that are not sustainable because these moments are lacking the actual sensible associated feelings, reactions, and consciousness. While at the same time, we are trying to make robots more human!
We all lived the lockdown for months, doing everything at home. Everyone may have a different experience but the line between living and working became very lean, the number of working hours increased, how can you enjoy living while you are spending all your time at home!
So, I guess no one will be happy with this extreme doing everything from home, not only as working but also, shopping from home, learning from home, meeting new friends virtually, engaging new customers virtually, exercising at home, watching movies at home…etc.
I’m a person who loves to go out and not locked in a place for hours whatever the place itself, but I would like to imagine the future with you if we will continue like that.
Let us imagine the future if this virtual remote everything goes to the extreme without balancing between the two worlds (Virtual vs Physical), especially for new generations (Generation Alpha and beyond) who may not even experience the physical shopping, and it will be a memory like many other things that we had during our childhood as generation X & Y.
Imagine, that you are wearing a helmet that connects and transport you to a virtual world that looks exactly like the physical, that connected to your brain, you can see things in its real dimensions, touch it and feel its gestures, shake hands and feel things, hearing this virtual world sound, you can feel the gravity over it, you can feel the sun, wind, and a weak push or hit.
I would imagine, new roles of this virtual physical world, like an architect who will design the virtual space, virtual schools, virtual offices, when for example, you and your colleagues are connected in a meeting, you and your colleagues can see, listen, speak, and shake hands in this virtual workplace. Indeed, you can go anyplace virtually. And the most important have this feeling and sensation dimension.
Service providers that provide you an isolated capsule unit that connects you between these two worlds or gadgets to enhance your virtual experience. Other roles, like virtual fashion designers, natural sound designer, virtual smell designer, natural texture designer, …etc.
Is it possible to see yourself as if you are the main character inside the game “First man view” and see yourself walking, running, speaking, while you are in the same physical location? Will it create an illusion between the virtual and physical worlds? Will we find someone lost in that fancy virtual world? What do you think about transhumanism? will it be possible to transfer information from someone to someone else using nerves, or even control another body or robot that gives you this experience!
How would you imagine the world? And would it be good for humans?
I believe the future will be bright and promising but the most important is how to make sure that we are designing this digital future to enhance the human experience of living not stealing their lives and turn them to addicted machines by time to specific tools, games, social networks, …etc. how to help our children to live the physical world more than the virtual, how we can achieve this balance, and avoid physical social isolation!
Feature image from Gerd Leonhard
Also published on Medium.