I am a higher ed technology optimist.
I think that technology will improve higher education.
I believe that we will leverage technology to tackle challenges around costs, access,and quality.
But what if I’m wrong?
What if technology ends up pushing us backwards in higher ed?
One reason why I worry about technology and higher ed is because I like to go on vacation with my family.
To plan our vacations we use technology. Websites to search out destinations. Kayak to find flight. Airbnb to find someplace to stay.
And each year we struggle to find family vacations that will work for everyone. How to satisfy the needs to two teenagers and their parents? What happens when you throw in grandparents? Or younger cousins?
We know what we want. Active vacations that are also restful. We just don’t know how to pull these off.
Here is where a real live person, a travel expert, would really help. It would be awesome to be able to go and meet with an experienced and knowledgable travel professional, tell them our needs, and be presented with a bunch of options.
It is not the booking of the trips that is hard. It is know which trips to book.
But I don’t know any travel agents. There are no travel agencies (that I know about) in our little town.
According the the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the lack of travel agents in my area is not an anomaly. Today we have about 50,000 travel agents  in the U.S., down from over 112,000 in 2000. And it will get worse, as the BLS predicts  a 12% decline between now and 2022.
The Web has put lots of travel agents out of business.
The Web has made lots of things about traveling easier, and probably cheaper.
But in displacing all those travel agents we may have lost something important. We may have traded convenience and costs for quality.
The cautionary lesson for higher ed may be that we should always be wary of any technologies that replace people. We are a people driven business. A relationship drive enterprise. Relationships are things that technology does very poorly.
My guess is that the travel agents that are still thriving are the specialists. The professionals that can combine their knowledge and experience with available technologies to create new opportunities to find and plan great trips.
There is probably a minimum population size necessary to support these specialized travel agents. Those of us that don’t happen to live close to one of these new travel agents, travel agents 2.0, will need to continue to rely on a set of unsatisfying technologies.
Do you still work with a travel agent to plan your vacations?
Can you think of other cautionary technology lessons from other industries for higher ed?