First it was TV. Then Atari. Then the World Wide Web and the PC. Then it was Xbox. After so many years of human-machine interaction a trend is forming. An inverse relation exists between machine manipulation skills and simple human interaction skills. Travel around and it becomes apparent that the simple act of starting a conversation or engaging with others is a rarity. Remember the times on airplanes when people would connect and converse for the duration of the flight. Now the in-flight companion is your iPhone or iPad. What is the business risk? I recently visited the Number 1 resort of its kind in the world. What set it clearly apart was the degree of interaction by the entire staff. They were all trained in customer interaction; the ability to start with a greeting and developing to a pleasant conversation. The business risk is in the revenue and brand impact of bad customer service. Apple stores are a customer experience that demonstrates the fact. The machine interaction in the store is always a group activity.
One could also argue that the reduction in human interaction leads to an ever increasing constriction on the type of person that one can relate to in conversation. This produces a scary scenario where pockets of compatible people develop that inhibit diversification. I would say however, that modern transportation is allowing travel for the next generation that leads to experiences in diverse populations. Hopefully this will counteract a scary trend.
Does this mean that there is nothing a company can do to counteract the momentum of the virtual world? No. The on-line gaming community and virtual communities like Second Life are great vehicles for turning the technology to your advantage. Customer service applications abound that create role playing environments on line. They are less intimidating than real world role playing in the classroom. Who really wants to see another person fumble through an awkward conversation? Not me. I would rather fumble in Second Life!