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The surprisingly rude downside to modern technology

Living in Melbourne, I’m surrounded by world class coffee. It’s actually pretty difficult to find a bad cup, especially near my house and my office. However, even Melbourne cafes aren’t immune to poor user experience.

Just the other day I went to get a coffee on my way to work, only to have the barista call out the name of person before me several times.

“Cappuccino for Derek? Derek? (Now shouting) Cappuccino for Deeeerreeeek!? Calling all Dereks. OK, I’ll just leave that here.”

Fully engaged with his phone, Derek had seemingly forgotten there was a world around him. Upon coming back to earth, he hastily grabbed his cup and left. No apology, no thank you, and no time for anything but his device.

Suddenly, the $1 machine-made coffees at 7-Eleven seemed like even better value. So out of frustration and curiosity, I gave one a try. The coffee was good, but the in-store experience was perfect. My machine-made order was 100 per cent accurate, the podcast I was listening wasn’t interrupted and the customers in front of me paid attention.

Give it to me

Naturally, there’s more to this than just coffee.

Technology is shaping our lives on a daily basis, with more and more people finding a reliance or even an addiction to it. We live in a world that expects things faster, better and more personalised than ever. I myself had just opted for technology to help solve a problem, just because I could. So what’s the cost of getting tech to do our dirty work?

Clearly, the rise of technology is something I love and embrace, but it’s come at the expense of one thing I love even more. Manners.

All you have to do is observe someone using a voice assistant to see what I mean. Products like Google Home, Alexa and Siri have changed the home forever. They’ll happily play us a cooking tutorial, turn on the hall lights and belt out our favourite song in an instant. And they expect absolutely nothing in return. In fact, saying ‘thank you’ to them won’t make them deliver it faster next time. So there’s no point in being polite.

Barking out, ‘Hey Siri’, ‘Okay, Google’, or ‘Alexa’, is all well and good when you’re talking to your robot at home, but what happens when the next question you ask is directed to another human?

And what happens when children are conditioned to having their demands met by these devices? Rudeness gets rewarded. Etiquette gets eroded.

Sure, Google and Amazon offer alternatives to these wake words with the inclusion of manners, however the fact that they need a software update to get there says it all.

The ‘buy’ product

The correlation between the rise of technology and the decline of manners is perhaps most obvious in e-commerce.

Made for today’s always-on generation, e-commerce is the natural choice for time-poor consumers who want everything now. And with e-retailers around the world constantly pushing the envelope, tech in this space is progressing in leaps and bounds by the day. But herein lies the problem – the bigger it gets, the less personable we become.

Nowhere is this more true than with Amazon’s delivery experiment – Prime Air. A system where packages reach the buyer within 30 minutes or less, using unmanned drones. Without a doubt, innovation at its best. Yet it’s innovation that comes at the expense of the last human connection we have to e-commerce – the delivery person.

Looking ahead to a world devoid of interaction, it’s hardly surprising that our manners continue to regress.

We’re rude. What are you going to do about it?

It’s easy to blame all our problems on the prevalence of technology, but are we missing an opportunity here?

Is the onus on us retailers and marketers to make the in-store experience a better one in order to avoid this kind of sleep-shopping? It’s certainly a meaty problem to solve.

Our store fit-outs and our staff need to be so engaging that customers don’t allow their emails and earphones to get in the way.

Alternatively should we just give up altogether? If we can’t beat tech, is it time to just join it?

Customers can already order via an app and pay with a tap. So is it time we cut out the human element entirely and just left it to the machines to learn, optimise and streamline?

Zero human interaction and automated payment already seem to work for Amazon Go. The grocery store that recognises your digital wallet as you enter, and charges you every time you put an item into your bag. Apparently Amazon Go is on its way Down Under in the not too distant future. But I’m not sure we’re rude enough for that just yet.

Anthony Moss is executive creative director at digital agency, whiteGREY Melbourne.

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