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Anna Papachristos | March 20, 2013

Technological Progression or Societal Regression?

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smartphone_addiction356.jpgJust one week ago, as white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel, millions of people took to Twitter to express their joy and excitement over the election of Pope Francis. With nearly 130,000 tweets per minute, citizens across the globe welcomed the new pope, the first elected since the advent of the smartphone, the tablet, and Twitter. But it wasn't until the smoke cleared that we could finally see technology's impact on our lives in just eight short years.

The following day, NBC released an image (below) that compared the Vatican City crowd in 2005 versus the gathering in 2013. While 2005 simply shows a sea of heads gazing in anticipation, with only one or two cell phone screens visible, 2013's crowd appears overrun with smartphone and tablet screens ready to document the announcement. Instead of witnessing the momentous occasion, these onlookers chose to watch this live event from behind the glow of their screen--something we all do far too often.

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Unfortunately, we now live in a world where people would rather record the moment than live in the moment. Instead of really taking things in--the sights, the sounds, the smells--we are obsessed with making every experience tangible, something easily retrieved. Our mobile devices have become our portable memories. Then, as if to prove our worth, we post these photos and videos to Facebook and Twitter to brag, essentially. We claim we are being "social" by sharing our experiences via the Internet, but just as we depend upon our screens to interact and remember, companies have come to rely on technology to make customer connections, develop correlations, and cultivate relationships.

Today's conversations often revolve around Big Data and the 360-degree view of the customer, yet companies typically gather their insight from dashboards and databases that extract data across channels, thus claiming they understand customer behavior because of some information gathered by computers. But, underneath the quantitative analysis, many businesses lack true understanding of what motivates and drives their customer base. They rely so heavily on these budding technologies that they forget how to interact with the customers themselves.

Brands must look upon the days of "Mom and Pop" shops, when owners and staff knew what people wanted without referencing some screen so they may analyze the given consumer's every move. Companies are constantly looking for ways to personalize the customer experience, yet they have let the channels of overflowing data distract them from the people at the heart of their operations. Perhaps they should take their attention off those screens for just a bit--take a walk to refocus their eyes--so they can return with a clearer view of the customers that ensure these companies can continue to move forward, full steam ahead.

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