Technology for the sake of technology

using apps for simple tasks does not make you a tech-savvy

I'm old enough to remember what life was like before email. I was in the military-industrial complex during the '70s through the '90s. To put it in its most straightforward way, that was the time the military went from practically no personal-sized computers to computers on every desk. It was also the time of the early prototype of what we now call the Internet, which had no websites or images, and it was the same time we used portable GPS systems which also lacked any images, only grid coordinates. During this time, the telephone system also transitioned from electrical mechanical to electronic and from human operators to switch your calls to the elimination of the occupation of telephone operators.

I have witnessed organizations' attempts to simplify things by transferring those manual processes into elaborate online procedures that make simple tasks unnecessarily complex. In addition to that undesirable outcome, these online processes are not saving time or making any other significant improvement on the original method.

In our educational system, teachers lean heavily on the latest technology, and there can be a great benefit to all of that. But in the ultimate scenario, teaching/learning has to be a combination of traditional (in-person) and digital. The technology part has to be engaged as a supplement, not the other way around. Yet, teachers outsource their duties to the technology at their disposal, and students are left with learning online without the guidance, feedback, and most importantly, the conversational part of learning. Some teachers think they are on the cutting edge of technology because they assign online tasks and let the students fend for their own education.

Technology will not save any of us from doing what makes us human. In Neil Postman's book, Technopoly, he talks about how society thinks we are at our best when we act like machines. That is precisely what we do when we outsource our knowledge to applications. The information we receive from our applications lacks context, making the data meaningless. Postman states;

"Among the implications of these beliefs is a loss of confidence in human judgment and subjectivity. We have devalued the singular human capacity to see things whole in all their psychic, emotional, and moral dimensions, and we have replaced this with faith in the powers of technical calculations."

From 1975 to 1995, we have seen an unprecedented explosion in technology and how our society changed and adjusted to the new technology. This is why I tell my students that I am a dinosaur, and they should ask me 1500 questions about what life was like before the digital explosion.

As a preteen, I asked my grandparents on more than one occasion how they could ever live without television in their lives. My grandparents grew up before television was invented. It seemed to me (a child of the 60s) that life was not even worth living if you did not have a television. However, my grandparents looked at me cockeyed when I asked such questions. That is the same way I look at students now when they ask me about life without computers. I looked at them cockeyed and told them the same thing my grandparents told me, "We got along just fine, thank you."

Since I am not yet retired, I am still in the game and using all the high-tech applications and gadgets that everyone else uses. As a network technician and a cybersecurity educator, most of my real education and experience in the last 40 years taught me more than any of the degrees I have hanging on my walls. So right now, before my retirement, I have to make a statement based on empirical knowledge; most of these technologies do not make people's jobs easier.

For those of you who may be wondering how I can be both a technology educator and a modern-day Luddite, this is one of the reasons. I'm not picking on email, but it sucks. Since it is so easy to send, people send a ton of it just because it is easy. For me, only about 5% of my emails are worth my time. Since it is much easier to sit and type something or even make a phone call, people spend a good part of their time writing or reading emails. It can definitely give a false impression that someone is doing work. I will not detail how we operated before email; that is another article. But I will let you know that organizations still managed to communicate, plan, manage, and execute projects very well before email.

Technology can make a job easier, but I do not think it is more effective. Emails have many advantages. Emails are quick, cheap, and simple. Compared to simple mail, emails are instantaneous. It allows faster response time, and email can solve problems relatively easier.

For those same reasons, many people overuse it. Digital technology allows people to produce more photographs very cheaply. But has photography improved? Photographers take billions of more photos than they did in the 70s, for example, but if you shift through those photographs, those pictures are no better than the film photos made from the old SLR film cameras. It simply allows the ability to produce more mediocre images.

In the digital revolution, anyone can have their own show, their own blogs, and reach thousands of people with the press of a button. The technology that allows this is amazing but is the product better? Convenient, maybe, but not better. The GPS systems we use are undoubtedly convenient. Still, I am old enough to remember driving cross country before the everyday use of GPS, and I do not remember any significant problems that did not allow me to arrive at my destination. But I did get lost using GPS before. Though cab drivers use the GPS, it seems they did perfectly well before they adopted the technology.

People confuse technology progress with technology convenience. Word processors are convenient, but they do not make a better writer. If a person does not put in the time it takes to become a master at a skill; technology will not make them any better; it only helps make them produce junk a little faster.

Long before the digital revolution, technology did make life easier. Hammers, knives, wheels; these were necessities for survival. The early technology solved problems. But much of the technology today based on digital bits is invented more for making things we can already do well easier. Most of the type of helpful technology was made in the 20th century; television, computers, automobiles, jet planes, and safety pins, to name a few. The digital age is hitching a ride on the more valuable innovations and giving us different ways to interact with pre-digital technologies.

One of Aesop's fables tells of a crow who could not drink water from a tall pitcher because his beak was not long enough. The clever crow filled the pitcher with rocks until the water rose, and he had all of the water her needed. His necessity caused him to become innovative. When humans needed water, they dug wells, they needed shelters, so early humans built houses, forts, and cities; they needed food, so they learned how to cultivate plants and learned how to farm. Chariots, carts, trains, automobiles, and spaceships, humans, just like the crow in the fable, used technology to solve a pressing need.

Humans solved the fundamental problems of survival and eliminated the need to hunt, fish, and build houses on their own to live. Other technologies are going on in the world that does not make headlines. Advances in healthcare, genetic engineering are quietly going on behind the scenes, and some of this technology will continue to have profound impacts on our lives and culture.

But in the average consumer realm, people are being hoodwinked into believing they are tech-savvy. In reality, they are only one of the billions of applications consumers that possess little or no technical knowledge at all. Modern applications are not making consumers tech-savvy. The applications make them tech consumers who look for applications to do what they are already capable of doing; shopping, investments, gambling, ordering food and tracking health.

We have apps for ordering food, and you can not convince me it is more effective picking up a phone and calling it in. We take trips and can track flights and times, and yes, it is convenient, but certainly, it was not a significant problem to be solved in the first place. It is only a different method of delivery disguised as a helpful tool you can't do without.

Society has fallen in love with apps. There's a commercial that makes fun of older people who still print directions and airline tickets. But besides the possibility of convenience, what problem is it solving? There are various ways to meet online in a text forum. There is no shortage of apps that do that. But every time a new one comes along, we forget that we already have those same capabilities.

I have approximately 60 applications on my phone. Most of them mimic the apps I use on my computer, such as Netflix, Gmail, Facebook, etc. Then there are the apps just for my phone, BirdNet, Arlo, and Uber, for example. My use of these applications is functional. I do not feel it is cool to use an application for something I used to do manually, just because it is a new way to do an old thing.

I will continue to print out airline tickets, write directions on paper, keep track of my own hiking miles, and when possible, I'll pick up the phone and order from a local restaurant and give the delivery driver a tip. Using applications for simple tasks does not make you intelligent, hip, or young. Sometimes we need to take our heads out of society's ass and think for ourselves.




Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. My writing is a living organism.

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Thomas Holt Russell

Thomas Holt Russell

Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. My writing is a living organism.

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