Break/Down | D-evolution


Dsc00509A 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 😉


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5 responses to “Break/Down | D-evolution”

  1. But what were the contingencies going to be for the hospital administrative system? An extra building where they keep paper copies of everything that’s in the system, extra training to know how to work with the paper system, find records in that building, fill out the forms, etc, etc. The contingency is you wait until the system is back up. You call later.
    The logical problem with your recent arguments against technology is the assumption that technology didn’t start until the invention of the microprocessor. When in fact the human race has been putting “all our evolutionary energy…into evolving a system” for thousands of years. It’s what has made us the most successful species. If you want us to go back to pure genetic evolution we’d have to back up to before the first time one of us sharpened a rock and tied it to the end of a stick. And we’d be a bit further down the food chain, methinks.
    There are no “system[s] … external to us.” External to an individual, perhaps, but not to our species. If the programmers and administrators of the technology go away, so does the technology.
    I wrote a short fiction piece for the next Movement magazine over there in your country that has a very dystopian view of technology and considers when that last paragraph is no longer true. (If the Matrix was a more realistic rendering of potential AI-ruled futures, mine is the horribly, boringly realistic rendering, and then in only 800 words…and only a part of that is about computer technology…I had to have space to fit in the part about Radiohead being from outer space!)

  2. As if to prove your point, I tried to post a comment and got this in return:
    “We’re sorry, your comment has not been published because TypePad’s antispam filter has flagged it as potential comment spam.”

  3. I guess we are heading towards “The Terminator”.
    Mr Miller, was your comment sooooo unbelievably bad that you decided to abandon it because of the ‘potential spam’ message?
    Interestingly it didn’t allow me to post this first time either. Apparantly my blog is an ‘invalid url’.

  4. Sorry if you’re having problems commenting – I’ve not fiddled with anything, honest!
    Dan – you mailed me the comment you wanted to make, which was basically about technology having not really changed – it’s always been ‘internalized’ to some extent. And the alternative – having full paper back ups everywhere is impossible.
    I agree to an extent. I think one of the major changes with the advent of microprocessor technology is the user being totally ignorant of the background processes. This has been, to a lesser extent, true with other technologies like cars planes etc., but now we have systems we rely on day to day that we simply have no idea how they work. But that would be fine if we then knew what to do when they didn’t work.
    And this is my point: the systems we have are becoming external in the sense that once they go down we are lacking the actual skills to do the thing the technology was doing. ie we’re screwed because we’re so reliant. I think that is different. With a spade – if it breaks, you kind of know what to do to fix it, and what to do to get round it being broke. With the IT system in the hospital, people were nearly paralysed. And that’s a change, is it?

  5. on the end of your knob.