Thursday, July 29, 2021

Contactless Education

The push for contactless life continues. I can order food from a restaurant or a grocery store and have it delivered quietly to my porch, as if it descended magically from the sky. I can go sit and a sit-down restaurant and barely have to interact with my server at all, and of course my local fast food places have all completed their redesigns to look like large boxy food vending machines, where I can get my food without having to come close to touching a human. I can check myself into my flight, my hotel room, my rental whatever. And of course I can shop at a big box store and not deal with a single carbon-based life form

All of this trend is familiar to folks in the education world, where educational entrepreneurs have been pushing contactless education for years. Sign up for a cyber school, or a school with computer-delivered education courtesy of Summit or Rocketship or Edgenuity or any of the folks boasting that their software can deliver super-duper education and all you need in the room with you is a "guide" or "mentor" or "coach."

All of this is a bad idea. And Bonnie Kristian at the week laid it out in a piece perfectly titled "Most contactless service is awful. You can tell because the rich don't do it." Contactless service, she notes, is everywhere.

And that sucks. Most contactless service is awful, and industry blathering about convenience and customer preference shouldn't convince you otherwise. It's bad, you know it's bad, and if you need outside verification, here it is: Rich people won't go contactless.

Good, human service is the hallmark of a luxury experience. All the other stuff also matters, but when you pay a lot of money for a meal or hotel stay or shopping trip, the service is a central feature, and it cannot be replaced by a chatbot or a vending machine. Imagine you are a multi-millionaire, vacationing in extravagance. Maybe you're staying in one of those overwater bungalows in the Maldives or at the Hôtel Ritz Paris or in the presidential suite of some palatial old pile where the nightly price isn't listed on the website because if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

You will not do your own check-in on an iPad in the lobby, standing there with your greasy plane hair and your bags splayed out around you, punching a smudgy touch screen like a rube. You will not "speak" with a chatbot. You will not order your lobster thermidor from a vending machine eight doors down the hall. In fact, in the best hotels, you'll get more human service, not less. The fanciest suites come with a dedicated concierge, a human one, with human knowledge of the surrounding area and its amenities that a bot with access to Google Maps will never, ever replicate.

Bill Gates, she notes, is not messing with a QR code menu. He's also not sending his kids to a school where they stare at computer screens all day while a single human "guide" floats somewhere in the back of the room. The rich want human contact--and a lot of it. We can have the class size debate all day, but in the meantime, the McGotbux family is not sending young Pat to sit in a classroom with 35 other students (a Harkness table seats only twelve).

Contactless education, like contactless everything else, is for the Lessers, not the Betters. When it shows up in your neighborhood, resist it with all your might.

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