When I went to McDonald’s the other day, I saw a video on one of their menu screens declaring that their eggs were “hand cracked.” At first, it made me laugh. Who is so nervous about machines in food production that they feel reassured to see an establishment they’re eating at has humans cracking the eggs?
Yet, the more I considered it, the more I understood—this notion that there’s still something raw and real when a person is involved, versus a machine. Something trustworthy. It’s not quite a fear of a Wall-E-like future, but an appreciation for a real person getting their hands dirty to crack some eggs.
Or something like that.
You see it everywhere—not just with food, but with everything from nostalgia culture to politics. When you call customer service, you’re hoping a human picks up. When you take a photo for Instagram on your shiny iPhone X, you throw on a filter that strips it down and gives it the look of film. When a political candidate says what he’s thinking the second he thinks it, even to the point of sloppiness, lying, and potentially dangerous chaos, you elect him and praise him for his honesty—or at least a lot of people do.
Too much polish elicits distrust—you grimace at corporate Twitters churning out memes, but laugh at the organic ones, invented by random users online. It seems the closer things are to formulas and code, the more we distrust them. (But also, let’s be real: Corporate Twitters just don’t meme very well.)
But sometimes there are outliers, and in them, unexpected successes. One can be seen in Merriam Webster’s Twitter. The dictionary hardly seems like the place for biting commentary and sick political burns, but the Merriam Webster Twitter has become known for their dry definition tweets and occasional sharp reply, meant to deliberately bury those they deem ridiculous. And it’s a huge hit. The likes and retweets alone speak volumes.
Many celebrities have also taken note of the benefits of humanizing themselves and their brands. Kylie Jenner recently started posting YouTuber-style videos to advertise her Kylie Cosmetics products, and they’ve already garnered millions of views. In the videos, she and her friends, or sisters, or other established personalities, use her products and chat about them casually. Similarly, actresses Shay Mitchell (of Pretty Little Liars fame) and Ashley Tisdale (of High School Musical fame) have both created YouTube channels in the past couple of years, where they use their fame to create a successful, vlog-style, lifestyle brand, and use the channel to keep their name out there—or maybe even transition completely to online content.
Brands have come to recognize the importance of humanity in their advertising as well, hiring brand ambassadors and bloggers to create content that markets their products through vlog-style or Instagrammed “honest” reviews. This isn’t new—brands have sent free products to magazine writers for years in the hopes of getting a good review. But in the age of technology, where AI and machinery are speeding up and optimizing the very sorting of tomatoes, suddenly “hand-cracked eggs” starts to mean something.
Or does it? What does it mean for a company to appear clearly run by a human on its social media, or for there to be a gritty authenticity associated with a product? Why is it important to us for a corporation to care about its employees, the people it affects, and its community? Why do we trust the man more than the machine the man created? Because in a world that is becoming increasingly automated, real feels special, accessible, and relatable. It stands out.
When a company personalizes its interaction with us, it makes us feel valued. There is some level of distrust for machinery, but it is really that there is more trust for the human being. And there is some transfer of responsibility as well; we feel as though there is someone who can be held accountable if things go wrong with a product or service, and we feel like we’ve engaged in something real and personalized when it’s a human talking to us, preaching at us, or selling a product to us.
As helpful and often accurate as they are in making our world more efficient, it’s clear that automation and AI are never going to truly replace the human worker and the human voice. If anything, in the age of technology, the demand for a human personality among the shuffle of generic corporate tweets, inauthentic auto-replies, and click-baited links is more pointed a desire than it’s ever been.
Especially as content becomes wholly inaccessible in its prolificness, and bots reign over social media, pushing their focused agendas, the real, human voice in media has become a powerful tool. In fact, something as simple as authenticity can now overrule irrefutable truth—making it even more essential for those who have something true to say to recognize the importance of hand cracking an egg.