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Finding the Balance: When technology and humanity collide
The one where I go Paddleboarding
A few years ago, I started seeing people levitating on the River Thames. As the months passed, more and more people seemed to be levitating on it. And then, eventually, I realised they were paddleboarding.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan. It looked too slow for sport, too wobbly for relaxation. I may have even made a Steve Redgrave-esqe declaration that you will never, ever see me on a paddleboard.
So obviously, I ended up agreeing to take my son paddleboarding. And the experience gave a great example of organisations’ increasing reliance on technology over humanity.
The guy at the local lake clearly enjoyed his job. When I phoned, he gave a lot of information about Paddleboarding, about some river that was closed, about the weather conditions. He said we could hire boards, that it was a great day for it, and offered advice on how to stay standing up. All we had to do was hang up and book online, using their super new online booking system.
So I hung up and used the super new online booking system. At 2pm, that afternoon, I’d be attempting to stand up on a massive float.
Two minutes later, he called me back.
‘Hi, you’ve just tried to book a Paddle Boarding session? I’m really sorry, we’re fully booked today. More spaces next week’.
‘Oh – did you know that when I called a minute ago?’
‘Yeah, sorry, it’s not until we get the booking request through that we can confirm availability’
Luckily, we have another small lake near us that people like to stand up and float around on.
A similar conversation ensued, with the same outcome, ‘all you need to do is book online’. But this time, before hanging up, I made sure they had spaces for today. I wasn't falling for that old trick again!
Instead, I fell for a different trick. It didn’t matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t get the booking page to load. So, back onto the phone again to try and work out what was going on:
‘Oh, are you using an Apple device?’
‘Right. The booking form isn’t working on Apple devices at the moment. Do you have another one’
‘Can you borrow a friend’s, or your neighbour’s?’
‘Erm, not really… Can I just book it over the phone with you?’
‘No, it has to be online’
‘Right. Can’t you just… write it down with a pen and paper?’
‘No, we don’t have the ability to do that now’
‘To write something down?’
‘No. We can’t go around the system’
In both situations, the people were friendly, informative, and helpful. It was easy to get hold of them, easy to understand them, and easy to enjoy their enthusiasm. But they both fell down in the overreliance on automated systems, a slavish dedication to technology getting in the way of common sense - and of them making money for their business.
In the first case, the person waited until the confirmation came through to tell me ‘no’, rather than be upfront when we spoke, a waste of their time and mine. In the second, they let the process dictate the experience, and would likely have lost a customer that had I not found a workaround. And all because a pen and paper were now deemed unacceptable.
I ended up booking it on my Apple device, using Chrome instead of Safari. And I ended up on that Paddleboard, trying to stay on my feet whilst a rabid group of children tried to knock me off them.
Getting around on the water with a float and an oar was definitely easier. But luckily, when I needed to, I could still remember how to swim.