Human vs. Tools

Should technology be more human, or is it we human should be more human?

from the movie <I, Robot>

As a designer, I believe we should build products not only useful but delightful and friendly. Products should be more like users’ friends than just tools — they should be more human. However, a recent conversation with my Lyft driver made me doubt. Also, reading the book <Reclaiming Conversation> made me rethink this belief even more deeply. I have been asking myself:

Should technology be more human, or is it we human should be more human?

The Complaint About Google Map

The conversation began with the complaint about Google Map.

Lyft driver: I hate it (Google Map). Every time it has been updated, it is slower, you know, kind of stupid — I am here, but it looks like it doesn’t know where I am, the arrow is moving around — stupid!

Me (somehow, I told her I am a designer): Oh, yeah, it is not smart enough, I think it is still learning from you. We always want to make them smarter, and even more like your friends.

Lyft driver: But they are just tools, you know. Some of my friends, they are always with those apps. I told them, they are just tools, tools! Your real friends are in your real life, put down your phone, and spend some time with your real friends!

Me (I was shocked): …Good point! …Sigh, this is a bad side of technology…

Lyft driver: My children are also very addicted to it, so we set up a family time — no phone at all…

I believe design is all about connection, and we should design products that are more human. Am I right? I doubt. At the very first, we could be able to connect with each other more conveniently and efficiently thanks to the internet. But how about now? It is not connecting but disconnecting people. It may look like making the connections, I am afraid, those connections are not real and human ones but something superficial.


The Importance of Real Conversation

Sherry (the author) discussed a lot of this kind of issues (smartphone addiction etc.) in her book. Thanks to numerous products, we can accomplish a lot without face-to-face conversations. We also can talk a lot freely. But the terrible fact is:

We had talk enough, but no conversation. — Samuel Johnson

We don’t know how to start a conversation, how to have an effective and deep conversation, and we even try to avoid real conversations. We are always playing or receiving information, having less and less time to be bored, to think, to discover the inside of ourselves. It is even worse for children, who need real conversations to help themselves learn to have social interactions and build empathy for other people. Being addicted to phone and tons of information, they don’t have time to explore the world by themselves.

Is technology making life better?

Yes, definitely, technology are solving problems, and products are making life easier. But if technology can remove all the pains, we cannot gain real happiness. Complicated emotions are important for human, even those bad feelings, like pain. Are we solving the right problems? Are we making human more human or less human?

Can technology help us to know ourselves?

Quantified self, Fitness tracking, emotional tracking… they maybe a bad thing. They are just numbers, numbers cannot define who you are, numbers cannot help a deep self-reflection. Sometimes, we even tend to please the device to get a better score. Without looking deeply into the things behind those numbers, without self-reflection, we can never know ourselves as a real human. Are we stopping ourselves knowing and being human?

Is technology redefining “human”?

In my view, no matter how intelligent Artificial Intelligence is it can never be real Intelligence. At least, Emotional Intelligence is extremely hard to be programmed in this era. There is a point in Artificial Intelligence — we human would be afraid and even trying to run away when AI becomes very much like ourselves in a certain extent.

Researchers are making efforts to build an artificial human. We might be the last generation of real human. Not sure how it would be like, even doubt the definition of human in the future. Sometimes, I wish I could have a time travel to the future and get all the answers lol

What is human?

How can we do better as real human?

Manage the balance between Human and Tools. Yeah, it is hard, extremely hard— it needs practice and real care. Pay attention to technology and use them in a right way. Even before solving the problems, it is better to figure out the right problems and care deeply about people as real human.

At the meantime, we definitely don’t want to be programmed as tools, or to be integrated into tools in the future. Hence, as human, let’s learn to be human. Let us not just talk but have a conversation.


I am still reading this book, highly recommend it! It made me rethink again and again, deeper and deeper. So many striking moments, this is just a small portion of it.