A couple of weeks ago my daughter broke her leg. Ouch. I have to say, the A&E (ER) department at the local hospital were brilliant, and the treatment she’s received has been second to none. But as for the administration…
Today I had to take her for a follow-up X-ray and consultation. We arrived in good time and the X-ray was done. But we were then told what strikes fear into everyone dealing with public bodies or corporations these days: ‘the computer system is down’. With those dreaded words full-scale melt-down occurred. They couldn’t process the appointment. They couldn’t find anybody’s notes. They couldn’t make any further appointments.
This is not a rant against the NHS or its Staff – they were genuinely doing their best. But this is a fine example of the risks that come with technological solutions: when they go down, we are paralysed. The people simply did not know what to do or where to turn.
What worries me is that all of humanity is increasingly putting its trust in IT systems, and becoming so reliant on them that we are losing the skills we used to have to deal with the processes that the technology replaced. When the RIM system had an outage recently, people with their Blackberries were literally going stir-crazy, so reliant on them were they to function.
I wonder then if we continue in this way whether we will actually start d-evolving as a race. WHAT? This is the problem: we have stopped evolving as a species; instead, all our evolutionary energy is going into evolving a system which we rely on, one that is external to us, yet increasingly is necessary for the stability of our economy, our health, our education and good governance. And when it goes down, we’ll go with it.
Yesterday I listened to a programme which told the story of the Battle of New Orleans, in which many people died, which was actually fought after the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty declaring US independence. News travelled so slowly that people simply didn’t know peace had broken out. The programme was arguing that this could never happen today because of the speed of our communications systems. But imagine a future war so dependent on digital communication devices and networks, in which peace was to be declared, but the systems were down…. It’s New Orleans all over again.
Moral: technology is simply a tool. It is meant to aid us in our work, and make it more efficient. But if we lack contingencies for when the technology breaks, we’re leaving ourselves open to huge problems. So if you’re reading this – good, your system is working. Now make a back up and pray it continues that way 😉