Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

Promises Not Kept?

During the past two weeks my wife and I were traveling through Italy with a group of fifteen people from our area.  In the group were four relatively young people (active in the work force).  After a couple of days, it became obvious that their lifestyle was different than the rest of the group.  Both couples had cell phones and were constantly in contact with their offices.  None of us older people were carrying a cell phone.

The couples working while on vacation got me thinking about my early days experience with the growth of technology.  To put things in perspective, when I started my career, there were no cell phones, no lap tops, actually there were no computers.  Ball point pens were just emerging on the market.  Everything was low technology.  Work was highly dependent on the individual.  When you calculated significance or correlations, you did it by hand.  When you needed to research a topic, you went to the library.  In all work, the individual was deeply involved.

I remember the early computers and all the promises that were put forward.  They promised a paperless society.  We were going to have three-day work weeks.  Productivity was going to explode.  What really happened?  We have far more paper than ever.  The three-day work week not only did not materialize, the work week actually has grown to almost 24/7.  Productivity has actually declined.  According to government statistics, during the period from 1973 to 1993, the American productivity was half that of the period from 1950 to 1973.

What does all this mean?  Naturally, I have an idea but it requires the inclusion of a personal observation.  From my perspective, it appears that work done in manufacturing (i.e. production controlled by machine) has drastically improved the quality of the out-put while work completed by the individual has decreased in quality.  Given these two points, it is my suspicion that technologists are creating automation and replacement of people rather than helping people to become more efficient.  In this way the technology is focusing on developing better products, not better people.

Where does this leave people?  It puts them in an environment that rapidly produces things such as products, communication, data, etc.  So much stuff and so little time.  Technology has not produced more hours in a day, just more stuff you have to be concerned with.  The end result is that the individual has little time to spend on any one thing.

As my son would say, in the olden days you had time to delve into a problem and work with the data, think about the alternatives, and concentrate on the course of action.  That is not possible in the workplace of today.

Unfortunately, today the research has time only to look at the toplines of the data.  In the days gone by, we had time to look into the data, massage it, turn it inside out and upside down.  We were able to explore why the result came about, not just how they ended up.  When you did your hand calculations, you knew a lot bout the variances of the data, you knew if the assumptions of the analysis held up, you were intimate with the data.  It's not allowed anymore.  The company bought you all the glorious tools to do the thinking for you.  Now you don't have to think, just do.  Too much to do.  No time for consumer contact so we contract the work to an outside agency.  No time for the customer.  We now hire jobbers.  Does this make sense?  What do you think?  What has been your experience?

Sponsor:  Sorensen Associates Inc, Portland, OR  800.542.4321        Minneapolis, MN  888.616.0123

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