Progress is an Illusion

Technology once had actual and real benefits. The roof, the shelf, the wheel and fire were beneficial without substantial negative side effects. For some time new technology has focused on making money and benevolent outcomes are no longer the rule. Below are two examples of the fruitlessness of commercially driven tech.

The replacement of the cash register accomplished one simple transaction: the labor of accounting was transferred from the back office to the clerk and the customer. I was in Starbucks recently, ordering a simple tea for $2.45. The clerk punched at least 12 buttons to effect the transaction. This was with the computer working (not always the case) and with an experienced clerk. While a plus for the company, with a lower paid clerk doing the work rather than a higher paid accountant, it is numbing work and a waste of the customer’s time. It works because everyone has transferred the accounting function to the point of sale, so customers have no choice in the matter and have acclimated to the negative tech.

Attorneys are largely devoted to words on paper. One would think that the advent of “word processing” would have reduced the number of hours attorneys, paralegals and secretaries devote to each document, and a substantial lowering of the cost to the client. Yet such as not occurred. A relaxed and sloppy approach to creating documents has resulted in endless revisions. The time and cost savings haven’t materialized. In addition, despite word processing being the screwdriver of technologies, where one would expect a standard method would make it a one-time learning event, typist have had to contend with a seemingly endless parade of new products (remember Workperfect?) and upgrades. Imagine the screwdriver you bought in 1988 suddenly stops works.

Other technologies look better on the surface, but that is because the negative outcomes are so hidden and complex that they cannot be easily ferreted out. Technology for financial gain plays on people’s penchant for novelty and their fear of being left out. It is a pernicious and likely fatal ploy. As in all things in duality, we activate two polarities with our every action. As long as corporations and customers ignore this, unintended consequences will dominate.

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