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Human-Centric Computing

Posted on Tuesday, Oct 18th 2011

Just as I borrowed the title of a previous post, “The Substance of Style,” from Virginia Postrel, this title draws from Michael Dertouzos and his book, The Unfinished Revolution: Human-Centred Computers and what they can do for us.

Dertouzos suggested more than a decade ago that human beings tend to live on just two cylinders of the possible four that make up the engine of our existence: the intellectual and the physical, ignoring to a large extent the emotional and the spiritual. His hope was that as technology advances and addresses the needs of human beings in more personal ways, man would start living on all four cylinders.


Once again, it is Steve Jobs who unleashed the era of human-centric computing by making technology usable by and useful to laypeople in ways that were previously unimaginable. The iPod changed how we consume music, and the iPad changed how we consume media. Not just “we” techies, but “we” human beings.

However, there are several other leaders in this human-centric computing revolution. Mark Zuckerberg tapped into the basic human need to connect and has built Facebook into a global network on which almost a billion people spend countless hours. Jeff Bezos, with Amazon, has changed our relationship with books. Reed Hastings, with Netflix, has changed how we watch movies. eHarmony and other dating services fill a fundamental human need: to mate.

All of the above are innovations in the domain of the emotional and the spiritual. We could say that the past decade has been productive in the domain of human-centric computing.

So, where do we go from here?

Again, I am very interested in your thoughts. I will share some of mine to kick off the discussion.

Recently, I inadvertently got into a somewhat public argument with Howard Hartenbaum, a venture capitalist at August Capital, about a company called GrubWithUs. The concept is to use the Internet to connect with people and then meet and get to know them over a meal. It was presented to me as a way of “making new friends.”

I was intrigued by the idea. I have observed that in modern society, it can be difficult to meet new people and make new friends. As a result, perhaps American society in particular has a serious challenge with loneliness, one of the most fundamental emotional problems human beings encounter. Perfectly wonderful people seem to have a hard time building a community around themselves; this is a frustrating reality for many. Asian and Latin cultures tend to be more family and community oriented and may have less of an issue with loneliness.

GrubWithUs thus seemed like an excellent concept, one that had the promise to fulfill a real need and address a real social problem.

The argument I had with Howard, however, was about the concept’s implementation. I felt there needed to be much more precise matchmaking criteria to ensure you don’t end up spending a lot of evenings with randomly gathered people with whom you feel no real connection. Or, as the site is trending toward right now, the concept morphs into a business-networking phenomenon, of which there are already plenty.

Nonetheless, this is one human-centric computing idea I have seen lately that looks promising. Whether GrubWithUs or another company addresses helps people to meet in new ways, it is a problem the Internet is capable of solving. Somewhere at the intersection of an eHarmony and a GrubWithUs lies an opportunity that will make Mike Dertouzos smile.

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One intriguing question is: "How do we blend Conversations, Data, and Computing in a seamless threesome dialogue from Face to Face to Virtual and /or vice-versa" between ME, THE BRAND/ ORGANIZATION, and its REPRESENTATIVES. Emotional Intelligence is the secret weapon of Great Salespeople. Thanks to Humanizing Technologies, we might see the emergence of Emotionally Intelligent Organizations (and Brands). A key to 21st century Competitivity ?

Christian Renard Monday, October 24, 2011 at 4:17 AM PT