Monday, September 15, 2014

Eulogizing the Luddite

In the early 19th century, the advancement of technology was seen as a threat by some people who feared it would take away their jobs.  Rather than viewing technologies as tools to help them do more with less effort and better results, they took the view that their cherished and long-honed skills were meaningless and viewed it as a threat.  Rather than embracing the potential benefits, they opposed them vociferously.  These people were referred to as Luddites (history varies as to why).

Today, a true Luddite would be a pretty rare spectacle indeed - shamelessly decrying technology as a threat to their livelihoods, failing (perhaps on purpose) to see how it could allow them to achieve things they would not have been able to otherwise.

However long ago the eulogy for the Luddite was read, their kind have not vanished from the landscape.  They're still among us today, as something far worse - the apologetic, self-hating Luddite.

There's a line in time that serves as an almost insurmountable fence separating those who can develop a working mastery of information technology, and those who cannot for one reason or another.  In my experience it seems to start with those born before 1965 - 1970, with those born later having generally no problems at all utilizing technology to meet their desires, and those born before having generally no affinity nor use for technology in their daily lives.

Here's the rub - lots of people born at or before that line in time have jobs as professional knowledge workers, requiring them to be proficient with technology.

These people are perhaps the single biggest reason IT support organizations exist and remain busy.  In the 30 or so years that information technology has been "a thing" in the enterprise, one constant has remained across time - lots of people don't get it, or don't want to get it, and most of them are old.

We can spend forever attempting to determine why this is, and how to fix it, as though being a Luddite is an illness and we just haven't been able to cure it yet.  My opinion is a lot more harsh, and it's borne from decades of being in the business - decades of doing grunt work for someone else making far more money than me, whose job I could do in my sleep, but who would drown within hours of attempting to do mine.  That fundamental disparity leaves no room for sympathy.

Time is marching on.  Technology isn't going to plateau, nor slow down its advances, for anyone.  At what point is it no longer acceptable for a person to be incapable of utilizing technology to accomplish their duties efficiently?

Let's use the paradigm of technology as it applies to other tools & trades.  How apt are we to hire, let alone pay a premium due to tenure for, a carpenter who is able only to use handsaws while young journeyman apprentices use power saws and the like with all the resulting increases in productivity?  How apt are we to employ a fleet of salespeople who have leather-bound books to contain prospect lists and business cards instead of those familiar with Outlook and CRM solutions?  How much patience would we have for automobile mechanics who were flummoxed by the array of sensors on modern vehicles, or who refused to avail themselves of pneumatic tools?  How about the arborist who refused to use chain saws?  How long will a factory last that won't employ machinery to perform rudimentary tasks such as pipe bending, stamping, etc?

The rest of the world, in a larger majority every day, is employing technology to their benefit - be it information technology, machinery, robotics, automation, etc.  In order for business plans to make sense and be competitive, there's an implicit mastery of technology written into the numbers.  Efficiency isn't a great gift, it is an expectation.

So the question remains, for those who don't get it - those who call their helpdesks to figure out how to use Excel, or send an email to several people, or print something that will staple and collate, and who all sheepishly say "I'm not very good with computers" as though that makes it all okay - how much longer do you expect the world to buy your excuses?  How much longer will we have to carry your sorry, heavy, expensive butt?

It's always easier to just help you out - meaning, do it for you, because if you understood it you'd have learned how to do it yourself the last time.  But every time we do, believe us - we'd be a lot happier reading your eulogy.

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