Barney's Rubble

Computers Make You Stupid

Do we rely on our electronic counterparts too much?

What happened the last time your computer croaked? Did you feel lost, paralyzed, unable to work or communicate?

One day this winter, the power died in our plush, normally well-lit Redmond offices. Writers, artists and editors slunk out of their caves, rubbed their eyes and stood around talking sports. (This is when I discovered my co-workers don't consider pro wrestling to be a real sport.)

One by one, we drove home to where our wireless networks hummed along merrily so we could get some real work done. It could have been worse. If we were home when the power went out, we'd be forced to interact with our loved ones or do something really crazy like crack open a book.

Many of us are addicted to the computers and the Internet, but weak-willed or not, all of us are dependent upon them for work. As a result, we do whatever we can to never be without some kind of computing gadget, be it a BlackBerry, data-ready cell phone or access to Web services.

At a higher level, businesses rely too much on these fragile machines. When they fail, businesses fail. This is unacceptable. In the wake of Katrina, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff blamed poor electronic communications, overloaded Web servers and poor shipment tracking for the slow response.

Part of the Katrina problem is that computers do things that humans should do, or at least know how to do. Instead of calling the warehouse to see if that part is in stock, we look in a database. That's fine, unless the database goes down. Then we have no idea who to call or how.

E-mail and IM has replaced the phone or a walk down the hall. We use emoticons to mimic the real thing. Personal relationships and business relationships have become automated.

Redmond readers share these concerns. "Everyone's been ‘stupidized' by computers these days. Here's an example: retail store, computers crash, lines of people. Heaven forbid that they get out the paper pads and write up the sales!" complains Don.

Reader J. Peter was caught in a similar circle of computer hell. It all started when he was transferred to another office and needed some information sent over. He asked for it a half dozen times and it was transmitted three times before it finally arrived. "All of this could've been resolved in one day if they just used the damn phone," he says.

I did my little part to break the cycle and wrote the first draft (my critics are astounded that I do more than one draft) of this editorial with an actual pen and piece of paper. The first problem was I could barely read the words. I type so much I forgot how to write! Then halfway through transcribing this onto my laptop, Microsoft Word crashed (guess it choked on six open documents). Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

What did you do the last time your PC died? Let me know what happened at [email protected].

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.


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