Is technology our tiny god?

I just finished reading an interview with Richard White on Marketplace: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/wealth-poverty/what-did-tech-ceo-say-worker-he-wanted-automate and it had me thinking again about the issue of our love of technology for the sake of technology.  As he waxes on about the future and automation I found myself asking the same questions as the author but also this:  Is it necessary to automate everything we can? Can some CEO who knows less than he is willing to admit about a process he casually observes really make an accurate assessment of jobs that need to be automated? What is the proper use of technology?

Technology our “tiny god”

 In “Shows About Nothing” Thomas Hibbs makes an interesting observation about the Harry Potter Stories that is worth considering in this context.  He invites us to look at the subtext of magic in the movies as a metaphor for technology.  I know there was some blabbering that the books were dangerous for our kids because they glamorize magic… Whatever.  I am not sure that these stories are any different from the message of many televangelists who preach a “Gospel of Success” that in some cases seeks to turn God into the wand (or an ATM) that we can use for our own designs.  I think Alan Jacobs has it right when he says that the use of magic in the Harry Potter stories is an invitation to reflect on the technology and our obsession with mastering and possessing nature.  As Peter Kreeft asserts, reductionism and materialistic philosophies are the villains here not science and (in this case) technology.   The debate is not whether or not to use technology it is about its proper use. 

Twice as much is not twice as good:

In the Song “Gravity” John Mayer makes this surprisingly obvious statement but it bares repeating. 

I had a childhood friend who learned this in a very concrete way.  His first experience involved Cheese Nips.  As we sat watching TV he ate an entire box of cheese nips and promptly threw up.  He was subsequently never able to eat them again.  Not long after that he repeated the exercise, this time with marshmallows.  (Needless to say, I knew exactly what to get him for his next birthday!)  

Is automation a good thing? It absolutely is! However, just because we can automate something does not mean we should.  In business it is tempting to assume that the more we automate the more controlled it is from a process and cost perspective.  Yet as the article cleverly intimates, the question we ought to be asking first is, what is the purpose of the process we are seeking to automate?  As our worship of VRUs in the 90s made painfully clear, if the process touches the customer directly and is centered on service you better have a person  (not a machine) handling that process.  

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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