Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Technology

There used to be a T-shirt that said something to the effect “It’s a beautiful day: now watch some jerk come along and screw it up.” Of course, anyone who looks to T-shirt slogans for revealed wisdom and philosophical insights is bound to be disappointed, but in this case, the T-shirt was on to something, especially regarding technology.

Technology is a wonderful thing. Comparing our life today with how things were just 20 years ago, it’s easy to see the technology has expanded our horizons and made life easier in many ways. Technology has been doing this since the beginning but there’s a downside. The fatal flaw of any technology is the fact that it can only be utilized by coming in contact with human beings, and that’s where things get really messy. One of the few absolutely predictable things about history is that some people will find a way to take even the most benign technology and use it for something stupid or evil. Take the airplane. It didn’t take long for the miracle of powered flight and an all that it promised for the betterment of mankind to become a vehicle for strafing and bombing. Even later, this marvelous liberating technology was used by terrorists for the glorious cause of mass murder.

On a more mundane day-to-day level, we now have digital ways of recording phone messages, or giving the caller a response. If we’re not home or not in the office, we don’t miss the call. So what can possibly go wrong with such a simple and obviously beneficial bit of technology? Well here’s what can go wrong. Businesses, always looking for ways to enhance the bottom line by cutting costs have made the happy discovery that a voicemail system means they can get by with fewer people to actually interact with customers on the phone, and they invariably overdo it . The result is the ubiquitous message “Your call is important to us; please stay on the line and someone will assist you shortly.” Personally I have always found this message to border on insulting. A more truthful version would be “Your call is important to us but not so important that we would actually hire someone to answer it.” Accompanying this message is either an endlessly looping commercial, ear-grating music, or simply dead silence so that you have no idea whether you are still on hold or floating endlessly in cyber phone land. If you choose to leave a message, one of the few remaining humans at the other end may or may not call you back at some point. The technology that makes it easier to make a phone call also makes it harder to actually track down a human at the other end.

So what’s the moral to this semi rant? The next time someone claims to have a new product, technology, or law that will usher in the new Golden age, remember Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Technology. Use technology and enjoy it, but don’t be surprised when someone finds a way to screw things up.

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