Saturday, 4 June 2016

Emotional Intelligence - Our Technology Needs It With Care.

Many years ago when I had a hairstyle that needed a comb, my parents ran a manufacturing plant and a wholesale front end was integrated into the building. It followed the usual arc of 3 or so years of hit and miss ( i.e. losses to break-even) income, which was subsidised by my father still holding his job down at an engineering plant; he'd finish his work at 5pm, and go into the business until late at night. 

The older generation had a work ethic that defies what my definition of hard work is, because they must have worked about 70 hours a week as a norm, with 90 hours seeming more likely. This isn't an exaggeration, as I can remember as a boy that they'd be out there 7 days a week to get the business going. They left home from 7am and came home as late as 11pm sometimes, so the maths aren't unrealistic.  I don't know how they did it in those years, either physically, mentally or emotionally.

Moving forward, the business eventually flourished and as the product line grew, so did the staff levels. At one point, they had 100 people on two floors making garments for them. Looking back, they never used 'in the field' sales people, but went out there to trade shows and customers themselves.  So they gradually had a slew of clients who were happy to travel or send couriers to pick up the goods from considerable distances. This included customers in foreign countries too.

A lot of this was down to the earlier days when I can remember going with my father in his ford transit van, and doing the drop offs in various parts of the UK . It saved the customers money and helped  build a loyal customer base. The incentive for me was a motorway cafe/service stop meal, and I'd help load and unload the van with him. My sister would occasionally make the trip, too. Looking back, they were fun times, even on the long cold winter nights up in scotland, sheffield and tadcaster. 

Before I become too nostalgic, the issue here isn't necessarily a retrospective look at my family's business; they sold it on back in 2008 to a business partner who worked with them, and my father has since been retired.

The crux here is  about figuring out how they managed to deal with all the comings and goings of staff over the 26 years they were in business. I was with them for several of those years, and I found it fascinating to observe.

The answer is partially encapsulated in the emotional quotient that applies when dealing with people.

My mother had a very soft touch when dealing with everyone. On closer inspection however, (and of course this is all based on my personal recollection, so there may be an emotive quotient in the recalling of events), she was 'an iron fist in a velvet glove'. My father was more pragmatic, but yet naturally calm and polite.

In effect, the aforementioned backstory of a segment of my familial life, was to illustrate the prelude to a question :-

Are we building these emotive qualities into the technology of today and tomorrow? 

More specifically, if the software and hardware is embedding these qualities using the finest ( and continually being refined ) coding and development processes, then what or whom (plural) is governing the sensibilities by which these facsimilies of our personalities are being replicated?

Consider all smart/ IOT technology today, and how it learns our habits, and essentially stores snapshots of our individual living and functioning styles. Ultimately, a slew of code and programming ( both nested and individual for different measurements and metrics) will analyse this data, and offer suggestions and/or even make decisions on our behalf. That's both refreshing, illuminating and also a little bit scary.

Why scary?

Because we're getting ever closer to approaching an apex as to where the synergy between man and machine is increasingly pronounced.The effect that will have on us in terms of our usefulness and sense of purpose as individuals and as collective, functional groups in society is debatable.

From the basic premise of the person getting up early in the morning to go to work, to the server / waiter and barista who is eventually made redundant, to the uncertain existence of the corner shop and boutique store, there are issues of balance, together with a slew of limitations that haven't yet been fully addressed.

Not everyone will be able to perpetually upgrade to the next best electronic necessity (that's a lengthier and subjective topic for another time). And those that do, will have more time on their hands, which once you have savoured at length , (e.g:-  a lengthier vacaton or 'clock off' from the daily treadmill of life),  will ironically be spent figuring out what to do next. 

Time is the keyword here. We hanker for an abundance of it and yet too much free time potentially means constructive development towards a better now or future, or benign and wasteful frippery.Hopefully it'll be a more towards the former, with a smidgeon of the latter.

Ultimately only time will tell us as to how we deal with each successive intertwining round of technological innovation, coupled with human needs and wants. But it's not too early or too late to use our emotional intelligence to try and best govern how we can steer the ships of innovation towards a better future, rather than a more random and potentially chaotic future, which occured because all we did was chase the bottom line of more ( or even extra) profit.

I'd rather we have a clearer idea of where we're going and a better future, because chasing the latter will mean more time spent fixing and reimagining what we didn't think or do with care 'back then' , in order to make that current time a brighter place. Profit isn't a dirty word, but it's not the only word when moving forward towards growth and innovation en masse. Especially at a time where resource allocation and productivity, as well as production methods, cannot be as lasseiz-faire as they used to be. Accountability isn't a dirty word either.

We've already built the tools, the materials are there to harness and so is the manpower. All we need to do is make sure we add care and mindfulness in the processes, along each step of the way towards the future.


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