Many services that were commonly available until recently have disappeared forever. Soon there will be no filling our car at a gas station. In the past we would chose a holiday from a printed catalogue and then book it at a travel agency. At supermarkets there will no longer anyone to give us the products we select or provide us with advice – we are going to be doing all this ourselves.
A dozen or so years ago there was no thought of carrying a computer around to make a bank transfer; instead our transfers were made by bank or post office staff. Today we are carrying out increasing numbers of operations ourselves, and in this way we assume, sometimes unknowingly, ever more new tasks. IKEA is a good case in point. Not only do we have to choose our products in a warehouse, place them in a large cart and then transport them, but we also have to assemble them at home. Sometimes we may even have to design them.
If we are able to assemble our own IKEA table, why can we not measure our own blood pressure or monitor other vital signs?
Why do we agree to assume such responsibilities? The answer is quite simple: because it is cheaper, more convenient and more flexible. Amazon Go is a shop with no service staff whatsoever. The trend of assuming “hidden responsibilities” is bound to develop. ZOZO, a Japanese online shop, has eliminated the problem of trying on clothes and relying on the advice of the shop staff. The first delivery includes a special type of flexible clothing. The customer then takes a number of photos with their smartphone, and a special application calculates the measurements and selects the size of all clothes ordered online. With the popularity of 3D printers, we may even expect to print a spare part for a washing machine or a broken glass at home in the near future.
All these innovations are intended to lower the costs of business. Supermarkets no longer have to employ new staff, travel agencies need no premises to lease, and banks have no need to expand their networks of branch offices. But as far as healthcare is concerned – whose rising costs must be limited – other factors also come into play, such as shortages of skilled medical staff and the fact that health includes both the body and mental well-being, which are best known by their owner. When someone makes a case against dehumanisation while speaking about digitalisation, I ask the following question: if we are able to assemble our own IKEA table, why can we not measure our own blood pressure or monitor other vital signs? What is at stake here is not mere furniture, but something more important – our health.
Each of us has already assumed the roles and competencies of a bank employee, travel agent, interior designer, architect, carpenter and stylist. Undoubtedly, we have been forced to do so under the guise of personalisation and comfort, while actually for the sake of business competitiveness. Thanks to the Internet, smart sensors and telemedicine, we are now able to take over some of the roles of a doctor, especially when it comes to simple and routine tasks. For a cold, we may use telemedicine, artificial intelligence systems or chatbots. All win: patients who can take better care of their health, and doctors who only have those cases that really require their professional expertise.