Thought of the Day
“Despite Frenetic Advances in Technology, Relationships Matter at Monness”September 30, 2010
We live in a fast-paced world, in which the speed of everything seems to be accelerating. E-mail and telephones follow us everywhere, into restaurants and the theater, on vacation, and at home on weekends. Invasive and insidious IMs track one down wherever one is. All night long muffled bleeps signal the arrival of more e-mails – most of which are candidates for deletion. Our omnipresent cell phones, constant companions, synch automatically as soon as we start the car. (Incredibly, if I choose – and I do not – my cell phone can synch with my ski helmet.)
What is gained is timely information and, if one has the ability and inclination, an opportunity to make a quick trade – possibly (but not assuredly) a profitable one. To those for whom staying in touch is imperative, one is never out of the loop. In our business, speed is important and provides a competitive edge, especially when customers exist all over the world. (Once asked to describe high frequency trading to someone outside of our business, I used an analogy from the animal kingdom. Imagine two frogs sitting on adjoining lily pads, each waiting for a dragonfly to drift within range. Frog ‘A’ has the ability to uncoil his tongue a fraction of a second faster than frog ‘B’. The unsuspecting dragonfly flits by; frog ‘A’ is sated; frog ‘B’ goes hungry.) The duration of orders on electronic exchanges, for example, can be measured in one thousandth of a second. To those who make use of high frequency trading computers, speed, efficiency and technology are more important than relationships.
Human interaction, in such instances, becomes unimportant, irrelevant, or non-existent. This process toward efficiency, with machines replacing man, has been evolving for two hundred years, but the last half dozen years have seen a sharp acceleration in the rate of change. The speed of computers and the ubiquity of the internet have hastened the trend away from personal interaction.
What is lost in this, almost paranoid, urgent dash for data points, where rumor and fact become indistinguishable, are the benefits of reflection – opportunities to weigh the evidence, to determine the source. People of like mind send out comments designed to reinforce their predetermined opinions, spreading stories in rapid-fire fashion. They are aided, of course, by a media to whom every story, no matter how trite, is a “news flash”, entertaining rather than informative. Laszlo Birinyi, writing in the October issue of Reminiscences, compares today’s market to a trek through the Amazon, requiring a guide.
In our firm we have always believed that no amount of technology can substitute for personal relationships. Technology in today’s world is critically important, but the ancient characteristics of mankind – honor, integrity, respect, loyalty – are indispensible to our building an enduring business.