Outsourcing Our Humanity

Morgan O'Rourke


April 1, 2014


If it wasn’t for the other people involved, relationships would be great. I mean, people are just the worst, right? Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow outsource all those messy human feelings and interactions to a gadget or something and go on with our days? Hey, it’s a busy world and we have things to do.

Well, misanthropes of the world can now rejoice: a new app called BroApp will pretty much do just that. The app’s designers call it a “relationship wingman” that will “maximize your relationship” so you can “spend more time with the bros.” Basically, it sends automatic daily text messages to your significant other so you don’t have to. Why spend time thinking about a loved one and interacting like a human being when you can program your phone to send a bunch of stock texts? It also comes with pre-written messages like “Miss you :)” or “Hey babe, how was your day?” so you don’t have to put even a modicum of thought into being thoughtful.

BroApp even has built-in fail-safes. You can set it up to not send texts when you’re connected to certain Wi-Fi networks, like, say, the one in your girlfriend’s house, since receiving an automated text from you while you’re presumably with her would be a bit awkward. It also has a “girlfriend safety lock down,” which will send her to a fake list of gifts you were “planning” to buy her if she tries to access the app on your phone. It’s like the developers knew that your significant other wouldn’t be too amused about being wooed by your smartphone.

From a clinical standpoint, BroApp seems kind of clever—if a successful relationship was measured on some sort of robotic efficiency scale, that is. Of course, real life doesn’t work that way. I’m guessing, in the long run, BroApp is more likely to end your relationship than improve it. After all, if you’re the kind of person who needs an app to do nice things for someone, you probably aren’t relationship material anyway.

The larger issue, though, is that technology has introduced yet another way to discourage personal interaction. I’ve ranted before that “kids today” are all about their phones, but I was at a restaurant recently and every child had some sort of screen in front of them, so it remains a valid concern.

This behavior is not only confined to smartphone users. In February, Google released a list of do’s and don’ts for users of Google Glass—their new wearable computers—to get them to stop acting like “Glassholes.” Evidently enough people have exhibited obnoxious and antisocial behaviors while wearing Google Glass that the world had to come up with a term for them. This behavior includes standing in the corner of a room recording people without their permission, staring off into space and ignoring one’s surroundings in favor of the content on their screens (aka “glassing-out”), or simply being creepy and rude.

The company isn’t just performing a proactive public service here—Google Glass has already forced restaurants, bars, casinos, movie theaters, hospitals and banks to develop new privacy policies or ban the technology in their establishments altogether. It makes sense that Google would tell users to be more considerate since they don’t want these early adopters to give the technology a bad reputation and kill the product before it gets off the ground. It’s an unfortunate sign of the times, however, that Google has to say anything in the first place. You would think adults should know better.

For the most part, I find new technology pretty exciting. When people favor their gadgets more than they do the people around them, however, it rubs me the wrong way. Technology makes things more convenient, but as any science fiction story will tell you, the cost of efficiency is usually our sense of basic human decency. And without decency, the risk of privacy violations, fraud, theft and other crimes goes up.

Of course, unplugging is not going to automatically reduce our risks and make us better people, but it might make us a little more human—and certainly more interesting. After all, it may be the writer in me talking, but no good story ever begins with, “So, I was on my phone...”

Morgan O’Rourke is editor in chief of Risk Management and director of publications for the Risk & Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS)

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