Push-Button Solutions

There’s a real case to be made for the place of the human being in technology. After all, what position would coders and IT specialists have if computers were not just machines that need programming and service and are subject to breakdowns as any stochastic system would be. That is, it’s crucial to remember that we exist in a world that obeys physical laws. 

The mindset that “there’s an app for that”–whatever “that” might be–might actually be harmful to us in the long term. We can’t expect some sort of push-button solution to every single one of the ills of the world.

Much as GPS systems blunt our ability to read maps or mobile phones make it unbelievable that people used to meet at particular places at pre-set times, it’s important that we as human beings learn to accept technology for how it can help us without being limited by the options that technology chooses to give us. 

Consider the example of a diagnostic computer on a car: it’s really helpful when the car can tell you what’s wrong, but it begs the broader question of what happens when the diagnostic computer itself is faulty or–potentially worse–that the computer doesn’t recognize whatever error is present.

Next, consider the human relationship to such technology. Given that effectively every single modern car has such a diagnostic system, this implies that the automotive technicians (“mechanic” might be too generous a term) who work on these cars will be trained with these systems in mind. They are told what part is failing and then they can unbolt that part and bolt a new one in place. Job done! Sort of…

The only problem is that when the computers fuzz out–as they will inevitably do precisely because both car and computer are stochastic systems–the automotive technicians will have to rely on grit, wits, and getting their hands dirty rather than just, in essence, replacing a piece in their big, rolling Lego set.

In essence, blind reliance on technology in this case–as in any case where we expect a solution after a couple of taps–fumbles when those taps fail actually to solve said problem. As the philosopher Matthew Crawford suggests, “The world in which we acquire skill as embodied agents is precisely that world in which we are subject to… the hazards of material reality.” 

Remember that for any system, there will be technicians and programmers who deal with the nitty-gritty of stuff that doesn’t work the way it’s meant to. Whether we choose to let this refined group of people be the only people who actually have agency is up to us, and it’s vital that we make a considered choice. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of automotive technicians standing around with broken computers.

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