In 1996, Dennis Yu of BlitzMetrics was concerned that web conferencing, email and the Internet in general would reduce the need for travel. For the same reason you now send email instead of actual letters, he felt that electronic communication would drastically reduce the need for business travel.
He started a new job at American Airlines to help get their internet marketing going. Letting people buy tickets themselves via the web would certainly eliminate jobs in the call center and in travel agencies.
Could that same brutal efficiency mean doom for much of business travel?
Dennis’ mentor Al Casey, former CEO of American Airlines, had a different thought. He said that the Internet would increase, not decrease demand for travel. Humans still needed to hold business interactions face to face, he reasoned. And this was a decade before online dating.
Globalization in business meant more dealings with international partners. You have probably experienced seeing a picture online of Independence Square online. And guess what. That won’t decrease your odds of going to Ukraine. Instead, it will increase the odds, even though someone has snapped better pictures that you ever would. The 3 million miles flown by Dennis in the last decade is proof of this.
And while Dennis could Skype with team members, clients, and partners in HD, he admits there’s no replacing the in-person relationship.
People buy into people, not products.
Dennis’s boss was right 20 years ago. Airline travel is up significantly since 1996. More people are traveling for business now than ever before.
But how about the impact of automation, bots and the impending singularity?
Anything you’d want can be delivered to you such that you never need to leave the house. Robots are taking our jobs, even the sophisticated ones. The movie WALL-E and the world of FALC seen in The Jetsons leads us to an inevitable conclusion of humans living in isolated pods, with nutrients and entertainment pumped into the veins.
The Matrix takes it a step further, as an extension of computer-to-brain interfaces so real that you won’t know whether or not you’re dreaming. Will there never be a class of humans who are lazy or still can’t find employment because they can’t meet the ever-increasing skills bar?
The paradox of the internet.
So how can we make sense of two opposing trends — that the Internet eliminates jobs and isolates people, but also brings people together for richer, more active lives?
Bill Gates said in his book, The Road Ahead, that technology is neither good nor bad. It is merely a tool that amplifies, making good things better and bad things worse.
We can expect to see greater stratification in society, as the “1 percent” accumulates wealth, while the masses generate wrath.
While there’s something to be said about social inequality and entitlement, the underlying story is about digital literacy.
Many of the young adults at BlitzMetrics come from abject poverty, yet have been able to hone in on the power of centuries of human civilization and knowledge that is just one click away.
Some don’t even have laptops, so they use their phones to get ahead, instead of playing Pokemon Go.
The jobs that robots will replace.
Just because the grocery store carries organic vegetables, it doesn’t mean society will get any healthier.
And just like the scare half a decade ago of India taking over due to their thousands of outsourcing development firms, it doesn’t mean that America will stop paying six figure salaries to the best engineers.
And just because we are moving towards the Internet of Things, it doesn’t mean we will all be displaced by robots either.
Rather, Dennis believes most menial jobs will be done by robots, including customer service and operations.
Humans were meant to connect with each other — to mentor and help each other grow. And things that should have been done by robots, like fly planes and drive cars, should be automated — except for pure entertainment value.
He believes there will be an Uber for nearly any industry, where there are standards of service and where demand is strong enough to aggregate into micro-economies of trained supply and slotted demand.
Trends are still determined by price.
Dennis is proud of the service he and his team provided at American Airlines, and felt people should pay a premium to fly the airline versus United, Delta, or even Southwest. But consumers voted with their wallets. Most bought the cheapest fare, with rare exception of the super loyal customers.
They would switch for a dollar.
That told him that even complex service businesses can be commoditized, so long as there were clear, authoritative standards and certifications. And nearly everything we do is heading towards certifications, whether educational player is legitimate or not, materials legitimate or not.