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Technology versus the personal touch

There's an assumption – be it in government or enterprise – that people have the understanding and the skills required to use technology.

For example, filing company returns has to be done online, and accessing assistance in some cases can only be done via a website. So many services require people to have an internet capable device/smartphone to get the best value or benefit. But what about those who for one reason or another do not or cannot get access to the internet? Should they be penalised or disadvantaged?

This is a reminder to all:

* Not everyone has access to the internet! Of those who do, not everyone has access to quality broadband infrastructure. New Zealand has one of the poorest broadband infrastructures in the developed world.

* Not everyone has a mobile phone! Not all mobile phones are smartphones.

* Not everyone has a Facebook account or is connected to the world via social media.

Now don't get me wrong: I love technology. It can be a fantastic tool for social interaction and productivity. I love my gadgets and hardware, I love broadband connectivity. I have met (virtually) many people both here in New Zealand and all over the world because of social media. But these virtual networks will never replace real, personal and physical interactions that are important for normal human life experience.

The more I use technology, the more I start to value walking into a shop and interacting with the staff or picking up a telephone and talking to someone rather, than sending emails or status updates to each other.

The online experience should enhance offline personal interactions – not replace them.

I have been shopping around for a walking stick for my wife who has a long term debilitating illness (Myalgic Encephalopathy / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I did not just want any walking stick; I wanted one that was practical and most importantly looked good.

We had seen a few around and found a great selection on the Disability Resource Centre website, but the small thumbnail gave no impression as to how it felt or how true the colours were. It was only when I called into the showroom in Auckland on a recent trip and spoke with the staff that I chose the right size and colour. The staff were incredibly knowledgeable, helpful and friendly, especially important for the type of purchase that I was making.

Now I have seen how this organisation works and who the staff are, I would have no problem using their website for other orders, but if I lived closer I would still prefer to call in person.

Technology can be a great benefit for many and even provide a way to communicate with the outside world, but to assume that everyone has access or adequate services is a mistake.

No matter how good your website is or how accurate the information, people often need someone to talk to, to bounce ideas around with and who can give an immediate response to questions.

Making the assumption that everyone will use your app, visit your website, read the information, or even know where to start looking, could alienate the people you need to connect with.

Social interaction doesn't just mean setting up a social media account – it means a real person connecting with a real person.

Paul S Allen blogs at thewaterside.co.nz.