Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Automation Nation

Dear Community,

This past weekend I went to Austin to visit my brother who has been doing a robot internship there for the summer. nerd. Id like to say that he really was interested in showing me his work, but I think the real truth is he wanted company for the 17 hour drive back from Austin to Colorado. About 8 hours in, I think he was really regretting the invite. I = not good road tripper. We invented planes for a reason.

Anyway, about 15 hours in and 1.5lbs of beef jerky later we came to Colorado's only toll road. Its a sweet toll road. One, because everyone is Colorado is to cheap to pay the $2 toll (they will literally drive 20 extra miles to avoid it) so you get the whole road to yourself but it also has the nicest toll operators ever. I'm not even impressed by "happy" customer service, but I would give these people a hug if there wasn't a metal booth in between us. 10am, really chipper. 3pm, really friendly, 2am- still smiling. They are all older, and by that I mean over 50 and, for whatever reason, they make me believe that they don't hate their job- which I really appreciate. Its become a thing in my family- all of our guests actually comment on how nice these people are on the way home from the airport. And then they mistakenly assume Coloradoans are all nice people (luckily we have Marylin Musgrave to keep that stat in check).

But this time when we went through the toll, we found that all of the toll collection had been automated. They take a picture of your license plate and bill you.

It's sad. Its faster. Its more efficient. Its actually really effective automation. But its still sad. I kind of liked talking to these people. I kind of like the "$2 please" interaction.

Which, of course, made me think about a lot of the automation that goes on a Google. There are a lot of Google users out there and to get to all of you, we need to have some automation. But as this happens we need to figure out a way to support and grow meaningful conversation and community around our products.

I think the key to maintaining these types of interactions is a reevaluation of authority. People want the advice to come from Google, but, you know what, your neighbor may know just as much as I do. Someone's blog on the Internet may have better advice. If you go to a conference, the person next to you may have amazing insight because her business is remarkably similar to yours.

And these kinds of interaction is what will save us from automation nation. It wont bring back my toll folks, but it reminded me that I like that kind of interaction and I should actively work to preserve in in my own life.

Over and out,

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