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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Strategic CSR - Forgetting

The article in the url below is fascinating. It discusses the increasing role of automation in our lives and the effect machines (computers, in particular) are having on some of our innate skills. In essence, an over-reliance on computers is causing us to forget how to perform basic functions. Think of the GPS navigator that is built into your car as an example. How many stories have you heard about people following the directions to dead-ends or roads that no longer exist? Think also of the spell-checker on your computer or the effect a calculator has had on our ability to perform simple math calculations. The article suggests that when we rely on such machines, we forget how to perform the core function ourselves (such as navigation), but we also tend to ignore data points that would otherwise alert us to problems. In other words, we are forgetting how to do things and we are not paying attention—we have become disengaged from the activity at hand. This is having devastating effects in all walks of life, such as the role of pilots in flying planes:
“Pilots today work inside what they call ‘glass cockpits.’ The old analog dials and gauges are mostly gone. They’ve been replaced by banks of digital displays. Automation has become so sophisticated that on a typical passenger flight, a human pilot holds the controls for a grand total of just three minutes. What pilots spend a lot of time doing is monitoring screens and keying in data. … And that, many aviation and automation experts have concluded, is a problem. … No one doubts that autopilot has contributed to improvements in flight safety over the years. It reduces pilot fatigue and provides advance warnings of problems, and it can keep a plane airborne should the crew become disabled. … [But] When an autopilot system fails, too many pilots, thrust abruptly into what has become a rare role, make mistakes. … The Federal Aviation Administration has become so concerned that in January it issued a ‘safety alert’ to airlines, urging them to get their pilots to do more manual flying. An overreliance on automation, the agency warned, could put planes and passengers at risk.”
The phenomenon is also affecting things such as the navigational abilities of Inuit hunters:
“The hunters’ ability to navigate vast stretches of the barren Arctic terrain, where landmarks are few, snow formations are in constant flux, and trails disappear overnight, has amazed explorers and scientists for centuries. … Inuit culture is changing now. The Igloolik hunters have begun to rely on computer-generated maps to get around. … But as GPS devices have proliferated on Igloolik, reports of serious accidents during hunts have spread. A hunter who hasn’t developed way-finding skills can easily become lost, particularly if his GPS receiver fails. The routes so meticulously plotted on satellite maps can also give hunters tunnel vision, leading them onto thin ice or into other hazards a skilled navigator would avoid. … A unique talent that has distinguished a people for centuries may evaporate in a generation.”
The result, the author argues, is a fundamental choice that defines us as humans:
“Whether it’s a pilot on a flight deck, a doctor in an examination room, or an Inuit hunter on an ice floe, knowing demands doing. One of the most remarkable things about us is also one of the easiest to overlook: each time we collide with the real, we deepen our understanding of the world and become more fully a part of it. While we’re wrestling with a difficult task, we may be motivated by an anticipation of the ends of our labor, but it’s the work itself—the means—that makes us who we are. Computer automation severs the ends from the means. It makes getting what we want easier, but it distances us from the work of knowing. As we transform ourselves into creatures of the screen, we face an existential question: Does our essence still lie in what we know, or are we now content to be defined by what we want? If we don’t grapple with that question ourselves, our gadgets will be happy to answer it for us.”
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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The Great Forgetting
By Nicholas Carr
November, 2013
The Atlantic Magazine