Sunday, September 20, 2009

21st Century Technology with 18th Century People

Have you noticed that the world we live in has changed dramatically? The future is now; all around us we have the technology that 20 years ago was only available in science fiction. This technology would be fantastic if it wasn’t being used by cavemen. We have Version 2.0 gadgets with Version 1.0 people.

It’s not a lack of education; the people around me have the kind of crazy ideas that could only be the result of higher education. These are people with a great engine under the hood, but it’s a real shame they don’t have their hands on the steering wheel. How else can you explain why a colleague of mine was recently found standing in front of the copier "creating" blank paper by copying his last remaining blank page?

Arthur C. Clarke once said that technology sufficiently advanced was indistinguishable from magic. For my colleague, the copier must have been the supernatural.

Email has to be the best example of good technology used badly. Sure, I get a few good emails every day. When you consider that Napoleon lost at Waterloo because he couldn’t send a message 15 miles, it is remarkable that I can receive messages from around the world almost instantaneously. Somewhere along the line, however, we over did it. I get hundreds of ridiculous emails every week, and I’m not even talking about the spam.

At one time, I used to believe the least democratic device ever invented was a jukebox. A room full of people could be enjoying some peace and quiet only to have interrupted by a moron with a quarter. The musical taste of the biggest jackass in the room could override the desires of everyone as long as the jackass had two bits. I realize now that email is worse; one person can send 200 people an email asking the bureaucratic equivalent of where your lap goes when you stand up. And each and every one of us has no choice except to answer. There is not enough time in the day to answer every email. Email is not work, but has sure as hell replaced it.

Cell phones have to be just about as bad. Do we really have to be in constant contact with each other? The first time I got a phone call while rabbit hunting, I damn near shot my phone. Why do I pay to carry a box that delivers a steady stream of bad news and intrudes on my privacy wherever I go? Why do we want to stay in touch 24 hours a day, when we obviously have so little to say? I can text, twitter, instant message, facebook, email, and call my wife. And presumably tell her the great events that have transpired in the two hours since I left the house. News so monumental that it could not wait the 8 hours until I return?

Back when I sold computers for a living, my service technicians used to be amused by how infrequently they actually had to work on anything when they went on a service call. This was called the “No Screwdriver Required” call. The two biggest complaints were “It don’t Print” and “It don’t work.” We had codes for this on the service tickets: IDP and IDW. Usually IDW meant the electrical cord was not plugged in while IDP meant the printer was not online. Privately, we called these “Operator Headspace Errors” or if we could be overheard, ID-10-T malfunctions.

All of this is probably not anyone’s fault. No one understands the machines we all own. We all have thermostats, Ipods, and home entertainment systems that would baffle a NASA engineer. Why did my newest computer come without a manual but my new blender has an operators instruction booklet 70 pages long? My oven has features Julia Child never dreamed of and probably wouldn’t want.

There is probably no real solution for any of this. I doubt we will start school courses in beginning technology in elementary school, if for no other reason than a lack of teachers who understand the subject. This brings us back to Arthur C. Clarke and his quote about advanced technology being magic. Have you noticed that the people we used to call “geeks”’ are now called “wizards” on a regular basis?

I think my university should just run with this idea. Change the name of the engineering school to “Hogwarts School of Industrial Magic.” Enrollment would go up. Issue every student a new wand/screwdriver. At least we would have more wizards around. 


  1. I love at my job, the people here will go the copy machine, and try to make copies. If it gives them an error, like wrong size of paper choosen. They will not stop and put right paper size in the machine, or change the settings to work. NO, they will try to make the copy again and again and again. Until they get annoyed and go to the other machine in the store. So when I walk up to it, there are four to five jobs waiting. The best time was there was over 20 jobs and a paper jam, but I guess they are too stupid to follow the picture directions on the screen.

  2. I gave instructions to complete a computer operation once.
    It failed.
    I could not figure out what was going wrong.
    Then I realized.
    I forgot to tell them to hit "enter".

  3. It would help if every keyboard had a button marked "Any Key"