In 1992, a book called Technopoly by Neil Postman was released, in which he wrote, “Stated in the most dramatic terms, the accusation can be made that the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys the vital sources of our humanity. It creates a culture without a moral foundation. It undermines certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living. Technology, in sum, is both friend and enemy.”
The world was a different place in the early ‘90s, but Postman was reacting to something on the horizon that was seemingly inevitable—the rise of a new digital era. Whether technology is helping or hurting our culture, or perhaps both, some will continue to debate the subject; others have largely accepted it as a part of our reality and don’t give it a second thought. While we wait for the final word on this, we’ll adapt to the world around us, as we humans do.
We can all agree that having a sustainable supply of high-quality coffee and being able to deliver this in a delicious beverage to our customers are the primary goals of the specialty coffee industry. If technology can help us make these goals a reality by improving our ability to be effective and efficient at what we do, we should most certainly embrace it. Still, we must always remember that the supply chain is made up of individuals who work in coffee, who are gathered together into organizations for various specialties in the trade. Having a healthy supply chain means having healthy, happy people maintaining it.
In recent years, we’ve seen a shift in how we conduct the business of coffee due to technological advances that have allowed us to become more precise in our measurements, more confident in our practices, and faster in our communications. There is no technology, however, that can care about the coffee plants and check on them to make sure they are happy, or that can roast a coffee to the optimal level based on sight, sound, taste, and all of the senses that we posses—those abilities which make us human. There are machines that can brew coffee at the press of a button, but the service that a barista can provide is an experience for a coffee drinker, and a human connection, that is impossible to replace and would be foolish to dismiss.
The tools we have created enrich our lives in many ways and have furthered our ability to grow, transport, roast, and serve better coffee. We must move full speed ahead into this new digital era, but we can never minimize the importance of our love for coffee, of our ability to nurture and prepare beverages that will surprise and delight our customers. As an industry, we must also learn how to communicate with a new generation of customers, and find ways to engage them in an authentic, personal way in digital and physical spaces alike. In this issue, learn how technology is changing the specialty coffee frontier, and take a look at some of the innovators and influencers in this realm.