January 16

Technology is insanity

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”*

Technology is complicated.  The devices we interact with each day are simplified interfaces concealing layers of devices creating systems of subsystems linking other subsystems with interlocking peripherals and a sprinkling of manufacturing variances and use-based fatigue.

And that is just the toilet.  Your cell phone is far worse.

Yet, every time you sit down to do a little paperwork in the one-man no-pants cube, you expect when you sign off, stand up and press that little lever, your contribution is processed.  On the whole, that turns out to be true.  Unless you filed a particularly large document, or the latest auto-potty forgets to flush this time.

We used to hold all of our technology to that standard: do something, get a result; repeat same thing, get same result.

Then came computers.
Then cell phones.
Then smartphones, a wondrous merging of the two.

Computers repeatedly reinforced the idea that you could repeat the same actions and get different results.  Not all the time, but occasionally doing something or even nothing would result in a change in state of your machine.  This being due to the layers of abstractions and interfaces that make this astoundingly complicated tool relatively easy to use.  Same thing, different results.

Seems a bit insane.

Cell phones introduced us further to this.  If you stand in one spot, unmoving, you could have a strong signal, a weak signal, or no signal, and this will change as you stand, motionless, changing no parameters.  Dropping calls, making but not receiving calls, delay times in minutes to days of texts, notifications not coming through – all variable events that seem to be entirely disconnected from any action you take**.

The insanity marches forward.

Smartphones are the pinnacle of this disconnect: they communicate constantly with cell towers and all the peripherals in their system, getting notifications, sending and receiving data, and generally doing lots of stuff even when you aren’t touching them.  You may be aware of this or not, but the seemingly arbitrary changes in behavior of your device are multiplied here.  You can do the same thing with your smartphone and get different results.

Insanity.  And you are not surprised when this occurs, either.

You are now expecting insanity.

This is why people get so very angry and frustrated at technology.  They don’t seem to have any control over making it work or not.  If you run a test where you give someone a task and arbitrarily punish them whether or not they do it correctly, they become frustrated, angry, defiant, and sullen.  Further, since it is arbitrary, it looks like an inability to use technology (a black mark in social standing).

So why does the world seem insane, populated by cranky and randomly angry people?  Hmmmm…

* Attribution varies, from Rita Mae Brown in her book Sudden Death to Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein.  Precise attribution is irrelevant in this case.

** There are rational, explainable reasons why these events occur – the fluctuation of the reported signal strength, for example, is dependent on your position, but also, the EM field around you, between you and the tower, objects between and behind you and the tower, tower load, and more.  This does not change the experience.

January 12


You might believe there is a certain irony in writing this here in this medium.  However, on reflection, I think you will find that it is not the message, and this is the most effective way to address this issue.  I mean, who reads street fliers?  You may have to look up from your entertainment.

Look, a segue.

I propose a bit of a challenge.  Unplug, and engage.  I highly recommend it, and when the introvert engineer is recommending you look around, perhaps attention should be paid.  Put down your devices, your media and infotainment, from any sort of escapism or entertainment or media stimulation.  I don’t propose anything crazy, like a week or even a day.  An hour is a good number to regularly do – think of it as exercise for your senses.  Choose an hour a day you normally would be able to entertain yourself (it is useless to say, for instance, an hour at work where you wouldn’t be allowed access anyway counts).  Better, choose something that you would normally seek entertainment for.  If you listen to music between classes, or check your favorite web updates on a commute (NOT while operating the vehicle, I hope), or would dive back into a book/ebook in the ten minutes before an appointment, refrain.  Don’t seek the distraction – instead look around and observe other people, your surroundings, the environment.

Whyever should you do such a mad silly thing, though?  Its a valid question.  I did and still often do fill gaps between events, and idle minutes stretching to hours on such entertainments.  One such entertainment is streaming comedy – continuous hours of a variety of such folk.  I find I don’t laugh much (apparently the live experience helps; or is it the live alcohol?); even so, all but the worst genitalia-airlines-and-racial-joke comedians have some grain of insight into human behavior and condition.  More, less, insightful, or useful depends on the recipient.  One such comedian (who I do not remember the name of) was remarking on the “dumbing” of modern Americans.  Among his other forgettable anecdotes, he noted that people of the last century had more down time on their brains – they did not have access to any sort of constant media.  He postulated that they thought more as a result.

I find his conclusion incomplete, but the line of reasoning was heading in the right direction.  Our brains need idle time.  Mulling time.  Random thought time.  We are social creatures.  Even me, an introvert engineer who frequently refers to the people around me by species.  We do need time in nature, even just seeing trees or grass.

Electronic, painted, printed, or even imagined substitutes are not equivalent.

My point?  Spend a little time each day being bored, being observant.  Allowing your brain to rest is healthy.  Observing your surroundings, the behaviors of people around you, feeds your mind like a book (albeit a rather obscured plot).