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Are We Too Dependent On Technology?


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#18 fahrquad

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 12:29 AM

I was citing the case of a supermarket checkout job. If the person is incapable of multiplying 90 cents by 10 without resorting to a calculator, perhaps they should be doing something else unconnected with money.

 

People who work at supermarkets, convenience stores, or fast food restaurants usually have a high school education or less, so it is understandable that their skill level is very low.  If they had any skills, they would seek higher employment.



#19 fahrquad

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 12:37 AM

I was quick to adopt home computers, internet, and e-mail.  I was slow to adopt smart phones though, and I refuse to use text messaging.  I tell the wife that she could have made a phone call quicker than she can send a text.



#20 Farming guy

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Posted 13 January 2017 - 06:20 AM

What about the general lack of specific knowledge about how our technology works?  While we do have a nearly global modern civilization where most people can have near instant access to information, an actual understanding about how things work seems to be limited to a shrinking portion of our population.  It is one thing to be able to read a schematic on a screen, but it is quite another thing to be able to find an repair a fault in a system that is broken.



#21 DrKrettin

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Posted 13 January 2017 - 06:33 AM

What about the general lack of specific knowledge about how our technology works?  While we do have a nearly global modern civilization where most people can have near instant access to information, an actual understanding about how things work seems to be limited to a shrinking portion of our population.  It is one thing to be able to read a schematic on a screen, but it is quite another thing to be able to find an repair a fault in a system that is broken.

 

I suspect that realistically, this has always been the case. How many people could mend, say, a basic telephone or radio?

 

The sad development I find is how cars and motorbikes have changed - I remember well how to change the plugs, check the plug gaps, use the choke when starting, and generally understand how things worked. Now, I've no idea what's under the bonnet of a car (sorry - hood) and I couldn't even find the spark plugs on my latest motorbike.

 

Reluctantly I must admit that the upside is that these machines are so much more reliable you do not need to know how to mend them - just an oil change every few thousand miles. But I really miss the control I had and how I could mend everything myself. Now I'm dependent on a garage to fix the slightest problem - if ever there is one..



#22 CraigD

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Posted 13 January 2017 - 04:43 PM

What about the general lack of specific knowledge about how our technology works?

This concerns me, in large part because I’ve witnessed a steady decline in my own knowledge of how the things I regularly use work, and because I now meet many people with the present-day equivalents of my social an education background who have never had such knowledge, and seem less concerned that they don’t than I do.

When I graduated college in the 1983, with a BS degree in Math, but most professional prospects in computer programming, I could, thanks to a class titled “electronic instrumentation” and hobby activity, build a simple digital computer from individual transistor and other simple electronic parts. I understood, at least in principle, how to build those individual parts, and even, thanks to a fine arts class in engraving, how to build integrated electronics using photolithography. The computer I could build was poor in comparison to those built from the commercial computer parts of that time, but it wasn’t hard for me to imagine that, given no more than sand, metal ore, wood and necessity, I could built a computer as good or better than the Apple, IBM, Tandy and other brand-named ones I was then using.

I don’t feel that way any more. The density and speed of transistors and more exotic electronics in the humblest of cellphones carried by most of the people I pass on the street rely on physic beyond my ken. I don’t think I could make something like them given the rest of my lifetime.

I don’t even feel a deep sense of understanding about computer software any more. In the early 1980s, Given the documentation of the instruction set of a CPU, I could make a computer with no software whatever – no operating system, no embedded system – do useful things. Such computers – for example, the 1960s-born DEC PDP-8 still existed – I’d had the experience of turning one on, transcribing a the minimal program needed to accept input via voltages at its physical connectors to load a longer program from a paper tape reader attached to a teletype terminal, then load a program that allowed it to support a room full of terminals, then use a terminal. Though I hadn’t personally written these bootstrap and runtime environment programs, I understood them in principle, and, having documentation fully describing the computer, could have written them.

Now, though I’ve written computer programs for the past 30 years, I don’t much understand the layers of software under which they run, and the software embedded in the many hardware components between me and memory and storage. I don’t even understand well the physics of this underlying memory and storage. Given time and an army of workers, and all the natural resources in the world, I couldn’t build the marvel at my fingertips, or the marvels with which it communicates.

Somewhere, though, some people do understand, and actually design this hardware, the program for its embedded systems, build it from raw materials, assemble it and ship it off to rest in the hands and data center racks where people like me program it, and everybody that uses a computer uses it. I’m just no longer not one of these people, but not able to seriously imagine being so.

I’m not entirely sure any single person is – that is can design and build the electronics we so take for granted.

It hasn’t always been the case that an individual could not create, from naught but natural materials, the highest technology of their civilization. As late as the 19th century, experienced mariners could harvest, mine, shape, smelt and build every part of a good boat from scratch, then use it to sail across an ocean. Even after the advent of steam and oil motors, a good craftsperson could reproduce something close to their civilization’s best technology.

I doubt anyone can now. Like the bootstrap procedure for the old PDP-8 of my youth, it seems to me that early technologists have metaphorically bootstapped our civilization into a complicated network of BIOSes, OSs, applications and the like. Unlike those old PDP-8s, nobody plans to power down and reboot our civilization, which unlike those old machines, is so big and redundant it doesn’t need to be.

I find this a bit spooky, and a lot humbling.

#23 Farming guy

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Posted 14 January 2017 - 06:25 PM

I suspect that realistically, this has always been the case. How many people could mend, say, a basic telephone or radio?

 

The sad development I find is how cars and motorbikes have changed - I remember well how to change the plugs, check the plug gaps, use the choke when starting, and generally understand how things worked. Now, I've no idea what's under the bonnet of a car (sorry - hood) and I couldn't even find the spark plugs on my latest motorbike.

 

Reluctantly I must admit that the upside is that these machines are so much more reliable you do not need to know how to mend them - just an oil change every few thousand miles. But I really miss the control I had and how I could mend everything myself. Now I'm dependent on a garage to fix the slightest problem - if ever there is one..

A few years ago we had a tractor break down even though there was nothing mechanically wrong with it.  One faulty electrical connection and that tractor might just as well have been a boat anchor!

 

The trouble is that our controls no longer mechanically connected to what we are controlling.  I pull on a lever that is connected to a sensor that sends a signal to a computer that checks with other sensors to see if it's safe to do what I want it to do, and then it sends a signal to cause the action that I want done.  The throttle used to be a lever connected to a rod that was connected to the fuel pump.  Beautiful in it's simplicity.

 

We had trouble with our grain feeders again today.  I noticed the cows were not eating, so I went and got the calibration tag, held it to the tag reader in each feeder, and I got grain, so I figured the cows were just too busy enjoying the warm sun after a cold night to be bothered with the grain.  Checked later, and no cows had been getting any grain for a few hours.  I could find no obvious fault, and now cows were obviously getting angry at not getting the grain, so I decided I better try the reset button.  It took me about 20 minutes to find that tiny little button on a circuit board!  (Note to any computer engineers; if you design something with a reset button, please make it large and put the word "reset" on it!)

 

Thankfully the rest button worked, and the cows are happy again.



#24 Turtle

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Posted 15 January 2017 - 12:57 PM

A few years ago we had a tractor break down even though there was nothing mechanically wrong with it.  One faulty electrical connection and that tractor might just as well have been a boat anchor!
...


This has always been the case for tractors with gasoline engines.

Technology is, and has been throughout recorded history, both the boon and bane of human dependency. Murphy's law applies to all technology whether primitive or advanced.

Edited by Turtle, 15 January 2017 - 12:58 PM.


#25 Farming guy

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Posted 15 January 2017 - 01:06 PM

This has always been the case for tractors with gasoline engines.

Technology is, and has been throughout recorded history, both the boon and bane of human dependency. Murphy's law applies to all technology whether primitive or advanced.

This is why I have such a fondness for old-school diesel engines!  It is also why Murphy's law can be so much more of a kick in the backside.  More places for faults to occur.

 

Another question that comes to my mind is do we master our technology, or does it master us?  I had a dentist appointment last week, and because I had to take the time to eliminate the bovine odors on me (out of consideration for other people needing to be in a confined space with me), I ended up rushing out the door without my smartphone.  When I was almost at the dentist office, I realized what I forgot, and had a brief moment of near panic!  This after living most of my life without a cellphone!



#26 Turtle

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Posted 15 January 2017 - 01:50 PM

This is why I have such a fondness for old-school diesel engines!  It is also why Murphy's law can be so much more of a kick in the backside.  More places for faults to occur.

Well, even with old-school diesel engines there can mechanical failures you can't repair yourself. Same too with the oldest-school technology. Take a broken spear point for example. Not every person in the tribe was a knapper, and for those who weren't it would have been necessary to seek out an expert.
 

Another question that comes to my mind is do we master our technology, or does it master us?  I had a dentist appointment last week, and because I had to take the time to eliminate the bovine odors on me (out of consideration for other people needing to be in a confined space with me), I ended up rushing out the door without my smartphone.  When I was almost at the dentist office, I realized what I forgot, and had a brief moment of near panic!  This after living most of my life without a cellphone!

I think the question of which is master varies from individual to individual. I don't think I'm knowledgable enough to speculate on the psychology of jacks-of-all-trades. For that, we better consult an expert. :D

#27 CraigD

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Posted 16 January 2017 - 07:43 PM

Well, even with old-school diesel engines there can mechanical failures you can't repair yourself. Same too with the oldest-school technology. Take a broken spear point for example. Not every person in the tribe was a knapper, and for those who weren't it would have been necessary to seek out an expert.

I’m not sure you’re right about specialization separating the makers from the users having always been the case.

Not every neolithic hunter was a good flintknapper, but I suspect all but the worst could at least just sharpen the end of the spear as a workaround.

A good example of a reparable technology are sailboats. Not only could any competent pre-20th century crew repair practically any damage to their ship, it was not unknown for a ship to be completely wrecked, far from civilization, and the crew to build a completely new ship out of local timber and whatever they could salvage from the wreck. A famous example is the wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda in 1609, and the construction of the Deliverance and Patience, ships that went on to destination in America and England. 17th century mariners were an admirably self-sufficient lot!

I think the point where an individual or small crew of people could no longer re-create their technology occurred ca 1800, with the rise in popularity and widespread adoption of steam engines. While a few skilled craftsmen might have been able to build a steam engine from iron the smelted from ore mined by their own hand, I doubt the crew of a 19th century steamship wrecked with a cracked boiler on a resource rich but unpeopled island could build a replacement steamship.

This subject of this thread reminds me of the penultimate scene in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which sees rail road secretary Eddie Withers desperately trying to repair a diesel electric locomotive broken down in the middle of nowhere. Reading that novel as a teenager, I identified most strongly with Eddie. Rand meant her novel to be a diatribe against communism, but, oddly, I took parts of it as a cautionary tale about capitalism and technology.

#28 Turtle

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Posted 16 January 2017 - 08:27 PM

Well, even with old-school diesel engines there can mechanical failures you can't repair yourself. Same too with the oldest-school technology. Take a broken spear point for example. Not every person in the tribe was a knapper, and for those who weren't it would have been necessary to seek out an expert.

I’m not sure you’re right about specialization separating the makers from the users having always been the case. ...

A quick search of 'Neolithic specialization' supports my claim back to the Neolithic period. While the sources I am giving are short, I have little doubt a deep delving would give considerably more evidence. I expect other areas of specialization in antiquity include the making and repair of textiles, preparation & use of medicines, and the manufacture of stoneware to name a few.

Neolithic Age..what is specialization? at Yahoo Answers

Second, in Neolithic societies "people began to specialize in certain crafts" argue Duiker and Spielvogel.3 That indication highlights the fact that various tasks that are necessary for maintaining individual and common lives have been performed by persons who have been clever at fabricating, hunting, speaking; namely particularly expert in a domain. The authority conferred upon those specialists by their manual dexterity or intelligence naturally encouraged their contemporaries to appeal to them for performing specific tasks that, therefore, caused a labour specialization. The latter is a corollary of the adoption of agriculture because cultivation and breeding produced surpluses of foodstuff. Accordingly, less people were required to provide enough supplies for the whole community and the people freed from that daily drudgery were available for undertaking other activities. ...

Link to a snippet from the Google Books page on World History by William J. Duiker, Jackson J. Spielvogel cited above.: [The text is limited in amount & not copyable, so you'll have to visit the page. I entered 'specialization' as the search term.]
World History

Edit: A quick perusal of this site finds ample support for my assertion of ancient specialization: >> Stone Age I'll look there for some specifics after I go out and kill some game, bring it home, butcher it, and cook it over my fire. ;)

Edited by Turtle, 16 January 2017 - 08:34 PM.


#29 Turtle

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Posted 16 January 2017 - 10:04 PM

All righty thens. While I might have hunted, killed, cooked, I instead opened a can of chili. Maybe some of you eager beavers searched 'Neolithic specialization' yourselves while I dined, and if so found a plethora of hits. I'll not get too lengthy but just go with enough to put a sharp point on my point.

The key phrase popping up is 'Neolithic revolution' and it's specialization that drove it. Specialization demands dependence on technology outside one's specialty, so as I said, it's nothing new and certainly nothing that is going to bring down civilization as implied in the thread title.

Just a bit of further citation:
Neolithic Revolution

...
The Neolithic Revolution involved far more than the adoption of a limited set of food-producing techniques. During the next millennia it would transform the small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers that had hitherto dominated human pre-history into sedentary (non-nomadic) societies based in built-up villages and towns. These societies radically modified their natural environment by means of specialized food-crop cultivation (with e.g. irrigation and deforestation) which allowed extensive surplus food production.

These developments provided the basis for densely populated settlements, specialization and division of labour, trading economies, the development of non-portable art and architecture, centralized administrations and political structures, hierarchical ideologies, depersonalized systems of knowledge (e.g. writing), and property ownership[citation needed]. Personal land and private property ownership led to an hierarchical society, with an elite Social class,[6] comprising a nobility, polity, and military.[citation needed] The first fully developed manifestation of the entire Neolithic complex[clarification needed] is seen in the Middle Eastern Sumerian cities (c. 5,500 BP), whose emergence also heralded the beginning of the Bronze Age.
...


I would argue technological specialization was already in place before the Neolithic revolution and likely helped fuel it, though archaeological evidence for that argument may be wanting. Then as now, folks exhibit different talents and they tend to migrate to those tasks they do well. As social creatures we haven't the need to depend solely on ourselves for the production and maintenance of our technology, and as technology advances and widens, neither have we the time. The sense of self-satisfaction in making or fixing technology oneself notwithstanding, not only is there no shame in asking for help, there is great power.

#30 Farming guy

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Posted 17 January 2017 - 06:27 AM

. The sense of self-satisfaction in making or fixing technology oneself notwithstanding, not only is there no shame in asking for help, there is great power.

We have a short list of people with specialized skills who we know we can count on to keep our business going.  The trouble is, the list is so short.  Every business that we deal with has the problem of finding good help, and this is a recent phenomenon.  It is getting harder to find people willing and able to work.

 

We have cows that need to be fed and milked twice per day every day, and these days, hardly anyone is willing to be available on a weekend or holiday for emergencies, and I worry about how old and worn out these people we depend on are becoming.  There are simply not enough young people willing to step up.



#31 CraigD

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Posted 17 January 2017 - 07:06 AM

I’m not sure you’re right about specialization separating the makers from the users having always been the case.

A quick search of 'Neolithic specialization' supports my claim back to the Neolithic period. While the sources I am giving are short, I have little doubt a deep delving would give considerably more evidence.

I agree.

The point I’m trying to make isn’t that humans didn’t specialize 10,000 years ago, or 200, but that until recently, our technology could be effectively created from scratch by a small community of people, or even an individual. The work likely wouldn’t be as good as that of masters of the various crafts, but it would be serviceable.

This isn’t true any more about many products. A town of 100,000 people can’t produce a computer capable of connecting to the internet, unless that town happens to have factories that produce the needed computer parts.

My previous example extolling the self-sufficiency of mariners is no longer representative. Consider the 2013 failure of the Carnival Triumph (AKA “the poop cruise”), where a leak in a single oil line caused a brief, automatically extinguished engine room fire, leaving the 3,100 passenger, 1,100 crew ship dead in the water dead (and largely unable to flush her thousands of toilets!) 240 km offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Her large, well-trained crew was unable to repair and get her underway, requiring her to be towed to port, which took 5 days.

One way to look at this trend it that the number of people needed to create our technology has increased over time. 10,000 years ago, I imagine it took fewer than 10. 400 years ago, perhaps 100. Now, I’m pretty sure the number is over 1000. Now Consider the size of a typical geographically contiguous community – a tribe, village, town or city – needed to be technologically self-sufficient. 10,000 years ago, it was a few tens, 400, a few hundred, now ... well, I don’t think there is a geographically contiguous community that can create a minimally functional realization of our technology. Even entire countries of tens or hundreds of millions lack the skilled people to create the manufacturing infrastructure to create the complicated devices – eg a cellular phone and its attendant network - that people the world over have and rely on.

Though worrisome to the rugged individualist, looked at in a positive, optimistic way, this forces us humans to cooperate, making us a single world community, bridging differences in language, ethnicity and culture. I like the optimistic view.

#32 Turtle

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Posted 17 January 2017 - 11:32 AM

I agree.

The point I’m trying to make isn’t that humans didn’t specialize 10,000 years ago, or 200, but that until recently, our technology could be effectively created from scratch by a small community of people, or even an individual. The work likely wouldn’t be as good as that of masters of the various crafts, but it would be serviceable.

This isn’t true any more about many products. A town of 100,000 people can’t produce a computer capable of connecting to the internet, unless that town happens to have factories that produce the needed computer parts.
...
Though worrisome to the rugged individualist, looked at in a positive, optimistic way, this forces us humans to cooperate, making us a single world community, bridging differences in language, ethnicity and culture. I like the optimistic view.


Well, my view is optimistic as well, in the sense that we peeps have always been 'too' dependent on technology and yet here we be. The scale is [more-or-less] proportional. That ancient small community may have died due to a lack of one or a few specialists and the knowledge of their technology completely lost. But, there were, and are, other communities that didn't die and they either had the same technology or developed different technology that achieved the same goals. This idea of the 'rugged individualist' is a myth. Humans have always been 'forced' to cooperate.
 

We have a short list of people with specialized skills who we know we can count on to keep our business going.  The trouble is, the list is so short.  Every business that we deal with has the problem of finding good help, and this is a recent phenomenon.  It is getting harder to find people willing and able to work.
 
We have cows that need to be fed and milked twice per day every day, and these days, hardly anyone is willing to be available on a weekend or holiday for emergencies, and I worry about how old and worn out these people we depend on are becoming.  There are simply not enough young people willing to step up.


Here again, it's a matter of scale. Your title implies that the whole of modern society is at risk, when in fact it's only bits and pieces. If you can't get workers you can reduce your herd to a level you can handle alone or with fewer workers. Even should your farm fail, or even all dairies fail, people will adapt. Whether that adaption comes by way of rebuilding the lost technology or developing new technology, it will be an adaption of depending on technology. That's what people do and have done that makes humans a successful species.


Edited by Turtle, 17 January 2017 - 12:05 PM.


#33 Farming guy

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Posted 18 January 2017 - 06:45 PM

Well, my view is optimistic as well, in the sense that we peeps have always been 'too' dependent on technology and yet here we be. The scale is [more-or-less] proportional. That ancient small community may have died due to a lack of one or a few specialists and the knowledge of their technology completely lost. But, there were, and are, other communities that didn't die and they either had the same technology or developed different technology that achieved the same goals. This idea of the 'rugged individualist' is a myth. Humans have always been 'forced' to cooperate.
 

Here again, it's a matter of scale. Your title implies that the whole of modern society is at risk, when in fact it's only bits and pieces. If you can't get workers you can reduce your herd to a level you can handle alone or with fewer workers. Even should your farm fail, or even all dairies fail, people will adapt. Whether that adaption comes by way of rebuilding the lost technology or developing new technology, it will be an adaption of depending on technology. That's what people do and have done that makes humans a successful species.

Great video. lmao

 

First, I don't think the farm will fail, but we will one day decide we are just tired of it.  I believe with 2 of us handling 100 cows putting out 2.4 million lbs of milk per year, we are as efficient as we will get.  There are robotic milkers on the market now, but they are priced so high as to be a foolish investment given the small margins in dairy farming, at least from my point of view.

 

Second, as to optimism, there is a difference between survival as a species and survival as a society.

 

 


Though worrisome to the rugged individualist, looked at in a positive, optimistic way, this forces us humans to cooperate, making us a single world community, bridging differences in language, ethnicity and culture. I like the optimistic view.

I don't know how you can watch or read the news and remain optimistic about a single world community.  I like optimism, it's just that realism keeps intruding.

 

When twitter first came out, I thought it was stupid and pointless, and look at how bad that  has become.

 

But then I also remember a quote, sorry I don't know who said it, "The internet doesn't make us more stupid, it makes our stupidity available to more people,"