The Techno-Illogical Revolution

“We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early success of science, but in a rather grisly morning after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimportant or actually deteriorated ends.”  -Aldous Huxley

Technological Correctness

The computer revolution has come to an end. The low-hanging fruit have been been picked and we are now only gaining incremental increases of convenience in doing the same things that changed the world in the 90's. What we have now is a prevailing philosophy of technological correctness, where the most technologically sophisticated solution is presumed to be the best for any given problem, even as the costs pile up and the returns diminish. 

In Medicine

I recently cured my cat's eye infection with a mild solution of boric acid. Boric acid can still be found in some pharmacies. It's quite cheap, but there are no instructions for it's use on the bottle. It's just a small bottle of white powder. Unless you already know what to do with it, nobody in the healthcare business is going to tell you. My eye doctor recoiled in horror when I asked him about using boric acid for eye infections, encouraged me never to try it, and then admitted he had never heard of the stuff. My hip and open-minded family doctor was vaguely familiar with the chemical and its use, but was surprised not to find it anywhere in his pharmaceutical reference books. (Yes, he took the time to look it up with me right there in the office.) He did say he thinks he knows an ENT that uses it, maybe.

Based on my experience, one could cure one-hundred eye infections with about a dollar's worth of the stuff. A couple generations ago, it was the go-to cure for eye and ear infections, administered by countless depression-era mothers. It has also been practically erased from history by the pharmaceutical arm of the modern technological revolution. 

The treatment of infectious disease is rife with examples. If you were to ask your doctor, at the height of our American civilization (the 50's), how to prevent hepatitis, he would have told you, "don't have your tattoos done by a Rwandan prostitute." That sound lifestyle advice should never have been replaced with a series of injections of questionable merit. But, that's exactly what has happened. Don't get me started on AIDS prevention. 

In Industry

I work in the industrial chemical business. We have a joke around the office that comes back into fashion whenever one of our vendors or customers switches their operations to SAP: "Stops All Production." (Oracle gets off easy only because their name is less useful as an acronym.) It's a disaster every time. On the other hand, one of the most reliable manufacturers I deal with operates almost entirely on paper. PAPER! Somewhere in the spectrum of tasks between extruding and preparation of shipping documents is a line where computer automation stops being helpful. Ignore it at your own peril. 

Governmental regulation is too big of a topic to tackle, so I'll pass it over except to say this: Every new regulatory scheme only complicates and sucks value out of the system. It never solves the problems it was supposed to. It just creates more. The only people that have ever disagreed with me on this point either work for the government, or vote for a living. 

In Culture

GPS is pretty darn useful. So are databases and online shopping. Twitter, however, is cultural AIDS. It is eroding our language. #monosyllabicgrunt

What's the great culture-changing technological advancement of the last decade? The smartphone. It doesn't do anything new, but it does combine older technologies into a more annoying and physically oppressive form factor! #scoliosis

The technologically correct solutions to life's problems are often introducing arcane systems of intermediation into the simplest of tasks. Paying with a credit card (despite all the marketing to the contrary) is not any faster than paying with cash in most cases. However, it does bring a mountain of interconnected technology, vast record keeping, and an army of remote employees between my vendor and I. For what? The privilege of taking out a tiny, high interest loan every time I buy a hamburger? #ripoff 


Why do so many people look to near-future technological advancements to solve our energy/health/economic/environmental/cultural/etc. problems? I suppose because it is predicated upon the work of some smart, industrious people somewhere else, in the future. And the only thing I need to do is lobby the government to find these smart, industrious people and give them lots of other peoples money in research grants. Easy peasy!

If I'm going to bring all this belly-aching to a point, that point is diminishing returns. We are rapidly increasing the complexity of our society, operating on slimmer margins, utilizing fewer of our resources, and producing less value. Value, utility and durability are being replaced by complexity, quantity, and glitter because those things make us feel rich. Our children will find, however, that we have only accumulated for them an inheritance of debts and a lot of wobbly Ikea furniture.