I am starting to lose faith in the digital world, and for all the wrong reasons. As a “digital devotee”, I have embraced online transactions of every type from the earliest days. Everything from emails and messaging to online purchases of travel and goods, banking, health advice, translations and social networking. But now I am beginning to see major flaws in the digital world that could, if not rectified, see its demise.
Surprisingly, it’s not the privacy issues that worry me most. That horse has well and truly bolted. I have been compromised so many times I’ve lost count, and they are just the ones I know about. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks, rogue apps, dodgy websites, scanners and my own stupidity has exposed everything from login passwords to bank account details. I have adopted a password manager that runs on all my devices and I now have over 700 unique passwords that I change regularly. Paranoid? Probably.
And it’s not security. It really doesn’t matter what I do to secure my devices, my home network and my online activities on public networks, because the security lapses are most common at the server end – the massive and supposedly impenetrable data collection and storage systems run by supposedly security-savvy companies like Uber, Dropbox, Yahoo, etc. If some of the world’s biggest online entities cannot secure their own systems, what chance do I have of being 100% certain my personal data is safe? Even with my 700 unique passwords changed regularly I can’t rest easy.
What really spells out the downfall of the broader digital economy is its failure to remember that I am still human and have not, as yet, been converted into a cyborg that conforms to some machine learning algorithm and accepts whatever the computer says. Let me explain.
In the not too distant “old days” if I wanted to book travel, I used a travel agency. When I needed to do banking, I went to a bank. When I wanted to buy clothes, I went to a mall. Every commercial interaction was with another human – someone who often (though not always) had empathy, communication skills, knowledge, opinions, advice and, above all, the ability to reason and think like a human.
I used to be able to call a number to talk to another human if I needed help with services, or had a complaint or needed something urgently. Trying to find a number to call in the digital world is like finding a needle in a haystack. The assumption is that I shouldn’t need to talk to anyone, because everything in the digital world is so bloody clever and well-designed I couldn’t possibly need another human being to sort out an issue.
No matter how brilliant these digital portals are, I can guarantee that I will manage to find a way to make something go wrong. It’s not intentional – it just happens, and it happens far too often for me to feel totally comfortable that what I trigger online will actually get a result somewhere else in the digital ether.
At least once per week I go into an apoplectic fit because something inexplicable happens in my digital world. For example, I booked air travel online with my favored airline, the one I have gold status with because of my loyalty. It wasn’t an easy itinerary but after an hour of fiddling around I got it sorted and managed to get a great price. Two weeks after completing the travel (over 20,000 air miles) I noticed I had not been credited the mileage. My online inquiries didn’t give me the answer so I resorted to calling and be told that the fare basis I booked on was not eligible for any mileage credits. Oh great, why didn’t the supposedly clever system tell me that before I booked. My old fashioned analog human travel agent would have!!!
And who could ever trust a computer to tell you that you would look good in a new suit and that it will fit you perfectly? I’d rather have an expert and human shop assistant do that and advise me on color and style, and point me to some potential bargain buys at the same time.
And don’t start me off about the benefits of online healthcare as opposed to visiting the doctor!
I’m not saying it’s all bad in the digital world – it’s just not good enough for me to rely on, not nearly good enough. Every online portal should have a ‘suggestion box’ so customers can easily report poor user experiences. They don’t and most affected customers, like me, just move on.
I know that retail bricks-and-mortar outlets are suffering just now, but my advice would be not to panic. Sure, provide an online option, but unless the digital world becomes more humanized it’s only a matter of time before we all go back to visiting the mall, enjoying a coffee with friends, talking to other humans, and experiencing and touching the goods we intend to spend good money on.
The digital world may not be doomed but if it doesn’t get its act together soon, the fad could well pass – unless we all become digital cyborgs in the meantime.