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Computers – Making America Dumber?

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Last week I wrote about “The True Obama Legacy” which I contend is strong movement towards centralized control via a bureaucratic state.  That post came in the wake of a couple of posts discussing Franklin Foer’s book “World Without Mind” in which the author contends that big tech (Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al.) are robbing us of our intellectual and perhaps actual freedom.

In my work activity I work with bureaucrats routinely only now I rarely talk to anybody.  Now I file reports on servers far away and wince when the automatic reply comes telling me my submission is unacceptable because I misspelled some word or failed to hit some minute, immaterial radio button.  Sometime later, weeks to months, I will also receive a note from a bureaucrat often 100’s if not 1000’s of miles away telling me that the submission is rejected because they misunderstand something about a facility they have never seen and have no experience with how such a business works.  At least in the old days they had to visit the facility to pass on the paperwork which generally meant they understood the paperwork when they saw it.

Usually I just sigh and fix the issue they think they found because that is the path of least resistance, but such does make me bemoan the state of things.  Why put in effort on my initial submission?  Why not just let the computer, and the functionaries behind it, tell me how stupid I am and fix it later? – After all, they are going to do so anyway.  The way we use computers serves as a disincentive to high performance.  But there are places in our society where this phenomena is even more obvious.

Consider the world of retail.  When I was a young man the average grocery store manager had to have it on the ball.  He knew what sold in his store and he placed orders to make sure his store was well stocked on what sold best.  I now see “Out of Stock” signs pretty routinely not just in the grocery but in any number of retail stores I frequent.  When I inquire, which I do because invariably one of those signs is on something I routinely purchase, I am told simply that they stocked what the report told them to and because the computer places the orders nothing will be in for several days.  In other words, what used to work pretty well, now works far less well because – computers.

And while I find this inconvenience annoying, sometimes even angering, it is not the real tragedy of this new system.  The real tragedy is the store managers I interact with.  They just do not give the impression of being the sharp cookies they were when I was a younger man.  Some of these guys, and ladies, are friends because I like to make friends of people I see frequently.  I know they have the same native smarts as the managers of yore, but they are never given the opportunity to use those smarts or practice the skills – robbed of such by the computers that drive their business.  Ofttimes, they know item X is a huge seller in their store (even if it is not in the store in the next town), but they can’t get more because the computer system, often several states away, will not allow for it.  Again, computers are being used as a disincentive to high performance.

Computers, once thought to be tools to liberate the mind have become machines that manufacture dumb.  Or so it seems – but I don’t actually think that is the case.  Rather, the problem is that we are using computers as tools to achieve centralized control rather than allowing them to be tools for people on local levels.  Isn’t it interesting that at least the appearance of dumb and centralized control seem to go hand-in-hand?  When you think about it, it starts to make sense that the consistently freest nation on Earth, the US, is also Earth’s highest achiever.

Hence the tax overhaul happening as this is published makes so much sense.  More money in our pockets gives us more freedom to explore and do more things, like say… get smarter than the computers; learning to use them as tools rather than kow-towing to them as overlords.

Honor is due for the passage of this tax overhaul.  But with that accomplishment the onus now falls on us to be smarter.  In my first post on the Foer book I write, “Is not reliance on Google to answer all our questions a form of sloth?”  We should not be slothful in the application of the new money we find in our pockets or else we will simply be giving in to the demands of centralized control.

Hughniverse

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