FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is Self-Service Changing Our Culture?

Because self-service technologies such as self-checkout aisles and automated phone trees save businesses huge amounts of money, they're undoubtedly here to stay. Plus, despite their flaws, kiosks and other self-service tools appear to be saving consumers time and aggravation:

A recent study found that 38 percent of airline passengers use check-in kiosks, waiting half as long for boarding passes as passengers who use an airline representative.

"I don't need to burn calories telling somebody who I am, where I am going and what seat I want," says Paul Schweer, a software developer who travels frequently. "And there's none of the ambiguity and inefficiency when you're trying to talk to somebody in a crowded airport."

By one estimate, by the end of the decade, half of our business interactions will be via some form of self-service.

But by sacrificing the human touch in our transactions, are we losing something more?

In a word, says Ulrike Schultze, "no."

Schultze, associate professor of information technology and operations management at Southern Methodist University, studies the effects of our growing reliance on self-serve technology. "In most cases, it's not as though you are sacrificing a valuable human experience," she says.

"Take the example of ordering a hamburger at McDonald's," Schultze says. "The person you are talking to is just rattling off information from a script: `Do you want a large Coke with that? Do you want this or that special?'

"An electronic interaction isn't going to be much different. When was the last time you had a conversation with somebody at a checkout line that changed your life?"

Source: Fort Wayne News-Sentinel