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The Call for Humanism in Technology

by Hank Barnes  |  October 14, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

I just got back from Gartner’s U.S. Symposium in Orlando.  It was a great week, meeting with lots of technology providers of all ages and sizes.   As always, I was impressed with the passion and creativity of many emerging providers.

The theme of this year’s conference was Digital Business, and one theme really jumped out at me—a call for humanism.  As the Internet of Things continues to mature, businesses will have the opportunity to automate more and more.   In the world of IoT, this will drive two strong perspectives.

One is clear–the machinist.  The machinist seeks to automate everything.  In the eye of the machinist, getting people involved only serves to slow things down and introduce the opportunity for errors.  Frankly, the machinist view is not new—its existed in many IT organizations for years with views like “if users would just leave us alone, we could get our work done.”

The other perspective is that of the humanist.   The digital humanist provides the balance that keeps us away from a world dominated by machines to one that is focused on truly helping people and recognizing that control is not always a good thing–unpredictability is reality.  In fact, this is so important that Gartner introduced the idea of the Digital Humanist Manifesto.   This manifesto is critical and presents many opportunities for providers.


As technology providers, we must help businesses adopt the principles of the Digital Humanist Manifesto.    To do that, we all must put an even bigger focus on experience – both user experience (interacting with systems) and customer experience (interacting with the business).   This requires us to enhance our skills and resources in user-centric design–not just of systems but of our business processes.   We have to  build expertise in privacy at two levels–the technical level of information protection and the emotional level of understanding when it is inappropriate to use information for automated action.  Finally, we need to help organizations understand that the perfect process does not exist, don’t design for perfection–design for exception and build in capabilities to respond and react appropriately.

These skills (user-centric design, privacy management, and  fluid process) need to be embodied in our systems and present opportunities for service providers to stand out and guide their customers toward a better future.   Many of these things have been discussed for years, but now it is even more important as we run the risk of stepping across the divide toward too much automation–a step that could cause people to take a big step back from the possibilities due to the negative impact it has on their lives.  Balance it with the human perspective and people will gravitate to the good it does for them.

The Digital Humanist Manifesto is a critical concept that resonates with me like few ideas have as we think about the Internet of Things and Digital Business.  Take it seriously and help your customers do the same.   Balance the machinist view of the world with the humanist. Err toward humanism. Embrace the blend.


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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: customer-experience  design-thinking  digital-humanist-manifesto  internet-of-things  privacy  process-thinking  user-experience  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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