How The Human Gets Lost In The API Shuffle

I find it is easy to lose our focus on humanity when when you work in technology. I’ve been working with databases for over 30 years, and it is easy for me to just see things as records, instead of about the information those records might contain. When you see a new signup come in from your service, the marketing funnel encourages to see this human as a demographic, a lead within a larger corporate sales opportunity, and part of a group of personas that we put into a single bucket. The technology whispers in our ear at every turn, helping distract us from how we lose our humanity little by little each day as we shuffle the technical bits around on the web.

Technology has no respect for humans, which is one reason many of us are attracted to technology. We have something in common. Technology allows us, in theory, to interact, engage, and connect with people at scale, around the world. It is a promise that will have to dehumanize our interactions, engagements, and connections, and reduce them to simpler transactions just so that we can achieve the scale associated with this promise. More is better. I have over 5,000 followers on LinkedIn. I have 1000 “friends” on Facebook. I have 14,000 followers on Twitter. Few of them are humans, they are just transactional versions of friends and followers, minus the human elements that actually make them meaningful.

While technology does a wonderful job of dehumanizing us at every turn, where it really becomes efficient is when we mix it with capitalism, increasing the pace of change, the amount of data points created, and the scale at which thing are supposed to happen. This is where the humanity has to be lost, for those pulling the levers to realize the amount of revenue they need to satisfy the appetite of the venture capitalists, and now enterprise giants pulling the puppet strings. Humanity becomes just a minimal requirement. Only what is required to keep people putting in their credit cards, nothing more. There is always more profits to be realized when we turn human behaviors into transactions, which can be used to introduce a new data point, that can be sold over, and over, and over to the highest bidder.

In this environment, human characteristics do not survive long. Names become more unique identifiers that can be used to identify you. Stories thrive, but not stories that have too much personality, or memorable characteristics. Stories are just transactions. Keep them short, concise, formulaic, and to the point. Authorship is viewed as too human. Locations are longitude and latitude, not where someone is. Turnover is expected. Position everything as a technological trend, even when everyone knows that humans won’t last long around here. Burnout. Greener grass. No loyalty. No getting to know your users, there are just too many of them. Reduce everything to a transaction. Keep the bits and bytes moving around the web, distilling out the humanity as we shuffle them about. It is how we will continue to ensure we all lose our humanity.