Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Technology is human

I am a technologist. I love gadgets and rely on a computer and a mobile device for many hours, every single day. I trust computers and understand how to work around issues (for example, using my iPhone here in Budapest with a Wind SIM card ;-)

Mostly, I know whom to blame when there is a problem: a human being. The developer, the operator behind the service, the company. Someone, who made a mistake.

I know it is not the machine.

Many people don't. They talk to their computer like it is a human. And get upset at the machine, when it fails them. Or they do not trust machines to be right, like my dad who does his taxes with a calculator, then verifies every single sum by hand...

I was reminded of how human technology is on Sunday. I woke up early to take a flight from Rome to Budapest. I arrived at the airport, checked in my bag and waited in front of a screen, far away from the gate. I do it always this way, I hate the packed crowd at the gate and people getting in line two hours before the flight is actually boarding. I like silence and a book. Even more, when I am in Italy...

In a word, I trust the computer.

This time, it failed me. The boarding sign never appeared and, while I was waiting for the plane to board, it actually left me there. My flight never showed "boarding" and disappeared from the screen, all of a sudden.

I had to pick up my bag, rebook a flight 10 hours later and, surprisingly, enjoy a full day in Rome. As a tourist. During a business trip. I left my bag at the airport, took the train back to the center. I had great pizza, fantastic coffee and super gelato. I walked around Fontana di Trevi and the Colosseo. I sat on the stairs in Piazza di Spagna with the Sunday crowd.

For a second, I actually thought the computer did it on purpose, to allow me an unexpected holiday.

Back at the airport, they initially told me I was not in the passenger list for the evening flight, then they called the manager in charge (an Hungarian lady from Malev) who finally put me on the plane. However, just when she gave me the boarding pass, she started yelling at me because I forced a 20 minutes delay of the morning flight, while they searched for my bag. I tried to explain I was looking at a computer and I trusted it. She would not listen. She kept yelling that I should not have trusted a computer. That it was all my fault, that she had to pay 30 euros to get my bag off the plane (which is probably a huge cost, for the Malev airline...). That I was supposed to be at the gate.

That I should not have trusted the computer.

Wait, was the computer at fault? Who forgot to press Enter and tell the system the plane was actually boarding? I would bet it was the same Hungarian lady... She screwed up, not the computer.

Technology is human, especially when it fails you.