Abdication and isolation

March 30th, 2010

As I continue with Sherry Turkle’s book, Simulation and Its Discontents, I find more and more to consider with regard to the limits of computers and even the potential harm they may cause us if overused.  Remember, I’m a child of the computer age.  I remember life before PCs and CDs, but I never struggled with including computer tools into my life.

However, two points Turkle makes give me reason to pause.  First, the tendency to abdicate control to the computer.  For some, control is not abdicated, but wrested from them by bosses and processes that demand they learn and use the latest technology.  But others give their authority away to the machines; I have to admit I could easily be one of these.  I could be like the architect Turkle describes, who failed to recheck the data he entered into the computer and ended up with a building foundation that was completely wrong.  Or I could be like the contractor on that same project who always rechecked the numbers when the drawing was produced by hand but never thought of doing so when the computer generated the plans.  Both men knew the computer only manipulated what it received, but somehow they both gave in to the false belief that computers can correct human error.

The second point in this section was the rise of isolationism among design professionals, largely due to the use of computers.  In many design firms, roles have become compartmentalized with some doing hand drawing and others entering data into the computers.  The two sides are supposed to collaborate, but neither side feels the other can really understand it.  The same happens with outside partners, like craftspeople providing materials or constructing the buildings.  They once felt intimately connected to the project they worked on because of the relationships they maintained with the architects.  Now, those relationships have grown progressively more shallow, and some designers place the blame squarely on the use of computer-assisted design.

Into what other fields can this sense of compartmentalization and isolation extend?  In education, we wrestle with including technology or convincing others to include technology in what has always been a very low-tech profession.  In order to teach, all you really need is a teacher and a student.  No books, no board, no writing instruments, and definitely no computer.  But we do have them and we do use them.  How can we guard against abdicating our authority to the machine?

One Response to “Abdication and isolation”

  1. Kimberley Chandler on March 31, 2010 7:58 am

    I think that many of us have abdicated our authority to the machine…. the (my) obsession with checking email is one example. On the few occasions when the College’s server goes down, everyone gets a little crazy because they feel as if they can’t do any work.

    On the other hand, I am sitting on a train right now working on my class work. I have guests from Europe with me and we are looking up information about places we visited in DC. Instant information…. how wonderful!! The machine has revolutionized how we live and work!

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