Manual tasks are increasingly being eschewed in preference for doing things the easy way. Almost anything with the prefix “auto” is an immediate hit, as is the “I” and “E” in Iphone and E-scooter. Technology is an enabler. It makes us more efficient, and less prone to mistakes. However, we cannot be too dependent on technology. While it increases our capabilities, it also takes away our proficiency at performing the same tasks on our own. It numbs our tactile perception and dulls our kinesthetic intelligence.
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Powerless without machines
These days, the car is our legs, the computer is our mind, google our memories; just imagine what would happen if your computer crashed. As a finance professional, would you know how to collect, collate and interpret data to make business decisions? If there were a power outage at the factory, as a machinist, would you know how to fashion the same end product with conventional methods? As we progress towards an increasingly automated world, we begin to reminisce about the way things were done before, and with a bit more finesse. Here are some of the activities quickly moving towards mechanisation and in doing so, prompts us to question if that trend really means progress.
The Food Industry
Cooking isn’t called an art without reason. Different chefs can follow the exact same recipe but end up serving in varying interpretations of the dish. The subtleties of taste, texture, timing and technique is reduced to a repetitive clockwork process. Industrialisation of the entire food industry, has forced homogenised mediocity down our throats.
From the restaurant where sourcing ingredients can frequently involved food semi prepared in a central plant to the home kitchen where fresh produce is often outnumbered by frozen meals and convenient seasoning packets, time worn cooking skills are becoming rare.
It is understandable that modern convenience meals are a godsend in today’s world of crushing responsibilities and breakneck pace of work schedules, but it is truly a travesty when one’s culinary repertoire doesn’t extend beyond the 2 minute Maggie Mee or pushing numbers on a microwave.
The Medical Practice
The days of the robotic surgeon arcing over the patient like a cybernetic version of a multi armed Hindu deity, and shooting lasers to cure us, are upon us. It’s adoption has been increasing since it was approved for use in 2000.
These machines are used to conduct surgeries with the doctors controlling the machines from a workstation a distance away. The benefits to the patient are arguable when stacked against traditional methods of minimally invasive surgery but no doubt include lessened risks of scarring, infection and a shorter recovery period.
However, without adequate experience operating on patients directly, many doctors lose that tactile feel of conducting a manual surgery such as making incisions and manipulating instruments in a body cavity
With GPS and the WiFi smart phone, navigating in a complex network of city roads or the highways of a foreign country is not the challenge it once proved to be. Information relayed to the navigation app such as Google maps allows the driver to avoid traffic congestion, road tolls an even find the quickest route. However, for all the facility of it provides it also seems to have taken away the basic human faculty of common sense. Some commuters have blindly followed the GPS into lakes or off bridges.
In the fog of war and confusion, technology helps but when it comes to a man-to-man struggle for survival, our performance is not so easily assured. With long range weapons, overwhelming firepower, GPS, drones, better mobility options and body armour, what used to be basic military skills such as navigation skills, camouflage skills, martial arts, and keen outdoorsmanship have been watered down. Many a time, the performance of older career soldiers have trounced that of their younger cohort based on sheer experience and knowledge that was painstakingly acquired in a time without easy work arounds. These are the same survival skills that have served combatants well in past conflicts from the jungles of Vietnam to the ruins of Stalingrad.
Automated Call Centers
The bane of automation is the mechanical voice at the end of the customer service hot line. It cuts costs for companies on paper but it loses the critical touch with customers. With less emphasis on face-to-face interaction, human customer service personnel, to me, have increasingly become robotic and less able to relate to the customers. As reliance on automated call centers grow, customer service agents empowerment to act or make decisions is also curtailed, resulting in the irony that they become very much like the annoying automated call systems themselves.
At School & Work
Nobody memorises telephone numbers or addresses anymore, as information is stored in machines such as the smart phone, which, are readily accessible. Spell check and calculators have eroded peoples’ ability to spell and do mental sums. Consequently, many no longer recognise a glaring spelling, grammatical or mathematical mistake even it it was under their noses. The brain needs to be challenged and without which our minds can lapse into what’s called digital amnesia.
As Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Jenny Yip puts it, “We’re not just losing our ability to memorize,” she says. “We’re creating an imbalance in our brains, as over-dependence on technology creates a more dominant left brain at the expense of the right brain—and the right side of your brain is necessary for memory and concentration.”
Master or Slave
If we rely too much on technology, we become one with that system. We lose the essence of the human condition that is random, chaotic, able to think creatively, critically and empathise. Above all, we lose our independence, or in a scenario where our dependence on technology is suddenly cut off, we are left without a basic ability to function or even survive in the world.
We are too dependent on technology but it is an inevitable fact of life. The inexorable march of progress dictates that more and more tasks will be assigned to machines. However, we also need to inculcate a questioning and inquiring mind that will want to find out how these automatic processes are run so that we will not lose our mastery over these processes and machines. If we don’t, we will becomes their “slaves”.