Applying Personalism to Online Business Transactions

Personalism: A Philosophy of the Human Person

Recently, I asked a rather large online publisher — which I will not “call out” by name — to withdraw from publication my manuscript for a book. For at least three reasons, I was not impressed with its impersonal approach to me as an author, let alone a human being. First, the publisher would email me about my manuscript. However, when I attempted to reply to each email, it would come back to me, marked as “Permanent Error.” In other words, I could not respond to the publisher’s message. There is a loss of humanity in that kind of business dealing!

Second, in emailing me, the publisher would address me as an anonymous entity, writing, for instance, “Hello.” As a person, I have a name and it begins with “Timothy” or “Tim.” My name, then, is not “Hello.” “Hello, Tim or Timothy” would be more personal than simply writing “Hello.” Thus, to attempt to enter into a contractual agreement and not be addressed as a person is, at best, indicative of a lack of professionalism, and, at worst, a lack of respect for, say, an author, client or customer as a person.

Third, the publisher would not provide me with a phone number at which to contact him or her, so that I can discuss my manuscript with an actual human being. As online businesses expand throughout the world, it is becoming even more difficult to talk with a real, live, flesh-and-blood person. Rather, communication between persons is reducible to electronic links or email messages.

Now, I am not criticizing online businesses in themselves. I have, then, no problem with people “making a good living online;” nor do I have an objection to the expansion of online businesses. Nor, for that matter, do I have any problem with communicating through emails, provided that they have some kind of humanity or personal “touch” to them. My main concern, though, is that as businesses expand throughout the world, what may be at risk of being undermined or even attacked is the humanity of business transactions themselves. Thus, it would be well for businesses neither to miss nor ignore the obvious, which is that, ultimately, transactions are made between persons, not things. It would also be well for online businesses to sensitize their employees to the fact that behind “the electronic connection” is a human person. He or she should be addressed and treated as such.