Huel. I’ve never tried it, but already I hate it.
You see, I’m obsessed with food. Food is not fuel. Food is pleasure. Food is conversation. Food is adventure. Food is a shared experience that brings people together. Yes, yes, food keeps you alive too, but I’m fortunate enough to be far enough up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I’m beyond food as a mere survival requirement. For me, the making of food, talking about food, thinking about food exists at the top of Maslow’s pyramid as an essential ingredient of self actualisation.
My instagram account is dedicated to the enjoyment of food, and generally Instagram does a pretty good job of showing me relevant, well targeted adverts.
But then there’s Huel.
That bloody incessant Huel advert represents the antithesis of everything I believe. It’s a liquid food substitute. It renders food down to nothing more than functional fuel. Nobody sits down as a family over a Huel. Nobody agrees to meet their friends at 8:00pm on a Friday at a great new place that serves the latest Huel. Nobody is trying to think whether this Huel would be ideal with a crisp Chablis, or fava beans and a nice Chianti. Yes, the Hannibal Lecter reference is deliberate, more of that later.
In theory the targeting mechanism on Instagram that is showing me these adverts is working perfectly. I’m interested in food, and Huel, according to Huel is a food, so bingo! We should be a perfect match, right? Wrong. The human dimension to this entire experience is missing. Any human would look at my Insta feed and immediately know that Huel is absolutely not right for me. As a result of the incessant bombardment of Huel adverts, I am not just ambivalent to the stuff, I now have an active, seething hatred of it.
This is just a small example of the missing ingredient in our increasingly sophisticated experience landscape. We are using ever greater masses of data and complex analytics to craft very specific, targeted experiences. We are so confident that we can do this accurately that we think we can simply use AI and machine learning to replace the human dimension. For me, that would be a mistake.
Don’t get me wrong, AI and machine learning are incredibly important tools. But they are no substitute for humanity. In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter, the genius sociopath could analyse the mind of a serial killer, but was himself bereft of humanity. His terrifying combination of intelligence and cold heartedness is why he sits at the top of the American Film Institute’s list of cinema’s greatest villains. In that list you’ll also find Darth Vader (3rd), Hal 9000 (13th) and The Terminator (22nd). All villains who took cold, cruel mechanical logic to a terrifying extreme.
Now think about your application of technology to experiences. Is your plan to remove cost by substituting humans with automation? Or is it to free humans from tasks that get in the way of allowing them to be more human? If it’s the former, I would refer you to Dr. Lecter and the creation of your own particular digital sociopath.
About now I know I should have an insightful manifesto to show you how you can inject more humanity into your experiences. But I don’t. I do know that humanity is absolutely critical to making experiences rewarding, and humanity can only come from humans. Happy, curious, unusual, odd, quirky humans. It’s one of the reasons why we as a technology company suggest that clients consider people and ways of working before they consider the technology. Because I’m sure that the best way to inject humanity, is to put humans at the centre of creating experiences. Maybe that’s the human fuel we all really need.
Hero image by Keenan Constance
22 November 2019Nichole Mellekas
05 June 2019David Friar
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