If you ask the question: Have Computers made us more efficient? you have set the bar rather low. Instead ask: Have computers made us as efficient as they possibly can? When you ask that question, you will start to use computers differently. Brad DeLong, deputy assist to the Treasury in the Clinton administration, notes in this article in Wired that they can be a distraction, and this is so true.

Paul Virilio also talks a lot about the unintended effects of technology, but he has been doing that for a long time now.

And of course, remember the Mennonites!

Here’s the article:

The High Cost of Efficiency
Computers make us more productive. Do they also slow us down?
July 2003 Wired Magazine

By J. Bradford DeLong

In the spring of 1994, I wiped the game Civilization off my office computer. I wiped it off my home PC. I wiped it off my laptop. I threw away the original disks on which it had come. It was clear to me that I had a choice: I could either have Civilization on my computers, or I could be a deputy assistant secretary of the US Treasury. [emph bye_f] I could not do both. It wasn’t that my boss ordered me to – she herself played a mean game of computer solitaire. In this, I was the boss, and I had decided that with Civilization on DeLong’s hard disk, DeLong’s productivity would be unacceptably low.

Computers are tremendous labor-saving devices. They give us power to accomplish extraordinary amounts of work in extraordinarily short intervals of time: financial analysis, data mining, design automation. But they also give us the capability to do things like play solitaire. Or send instant messages. Fiddle with fonts. Futz with PowerPoint. Twiddle with images. Reconfigure link rollovers.

But he really gets going when talking about the needless use of powerpoint (Full Disclosure: I really really dislike Powerpoint)

At the organizational level, however, the uses of high tech that might be valuable for an individual can be pointless or counterproductive. Consider a meeting to decide between two courses of action. Often, the same decision would be made whether weeks were spent preparing overheads or no overheads were prepared at all. It’s easy to see that, from the company’s point of view, all the hours spent on PowerPoint slides are dissipated waste.

But of course the best attack on powerpoint comes from Ed Tufte, who takes his criticism a step further, and notes how powerpoint interferes with thinking, hides information, and leads to wrong decision making. Yes, choice of tools is important!


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