Why computers don’t save us time…

It’s been long debated how much time computers actually save in our lives. Multiple productivity studies have shown that after spending quite a bit of cash to bring an office into the modern age the increase in productivity is actually very low (if I recall, most studies said around 8%). But I’d argue they’re still worth the cost outlay but not because they provide an increase in productivity.

Pencil, Paper and Typewriters

Our tools were simple before computers. If you needed to do a bit of math, you simply did it. Those were the days! The problem came when you needed to do a whole lot of math. Repeatedly. Over and over. Sure it could still be done but it was mind-numbingling boring. Calculators improved things by removing the tediousness of the math calculations and allowed significant improvements in the data crunching per hour metric. Calculators actually provided significant increases in productivity, for the few that actually needed them for their job. Certainly McDonalds couldn’t possibly serve so many customers if the cashiers actually had to calculate the correct change for every transaction.

Enter the Modern Era

And then came computers (big ones at first that only did small things followed by small ones that do big things). Computers, like calculators, save time for certain tasks (but be careful what tasks you pick, which is likely going to be a future topic in its own right). Now when you’re plugging away on your budget and trying to figure out how to assign more money to the important mini-golf green-fees row you can twiddle all the other rows as needed until everything balances out ok (who needs healthy organic food when there is balls to hit into a castle). And remember when you wrote that paper in college (about the average hair density on a baby bunny vs a adult bunny or something like that)? That backspace key sure saved you compared to the time it would have taken you to use a typewriter. (for those that never had to use a typewriter, you’ll have to trust me on this one; for those that couldn’t use computers to write college papers, you’ll have to trust me too.)

But did you really save time?

Or did you simply redirect your time?

Virtual Housecleaning

Congratulations, you now inhabit two residences. You’re physical residence is probably getting slowly covered in dust and dirty dishes. It requires regular cleaning and maintenance to stay on top of it all. Well, I hate to tell ya but you probably spend a measurable amount of time cleaning up you desktop, organizing your bookmarks, deleting old files, installing and upgrading software, training yourself how to create power-point slides full of animated circles and arrows. (If you’re not doing these things, your disk is probably a mess. But hey, maybe your house is a mess too.)

When was the last time you moved? Some of you are hopefully quickly wondering “did he mean move physically or virtually?” Well, both. They both take a lot of effort. When you get a spiffy new machine, you have to move your old data (boxes of unused junk) from your old residence to your new one. You need to replace older software (cat-scratched furniture) with better versions with fancy-dancy graphics (untorn fabric with polka-dots).

But who cares?

Ok, now that I’ve convinced you that you haven’t saved any time by owning a computer (I have convinced you, right) you should disregard your sudden depression about this and exchange it for relief that you’re no longer bored. Everyone at some point has a chore so monotonous that you’ve nearly fallen asleep doing it. (Or maybe actually fell asleep!) Computers relieve much of the boredom and monotony and replace it with mind-expanding tasks like learning where your menu item moved to when you upgraded. Your boredom may have changed to anger when that animated paperclip poped up yet again. So the next time you’re dragging text around as you reorganize a well composed email just think back to the days when you retyped an entire paper because you forgot the transitioning sentence between the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. Put on a smile the next time you defragment your hard disk to speed up your aging equipment since it may someday save you from the monotonous chore of manually recalculating your household budget. And most importantly: where there is less monotony in life there is more learning and more brain activity. This will keep your brain healthier into your old age (assuming you at those organic veggies). Now go check you email and clean out your inbox. It’s been a while. Poking someone on facebook can wait while you do your virtual chores.

1 Comment

  1. MadMonty Said,

    October 24, 2009 @ 6:16 am

    MEAT IS MURDER ! Tasty Tasty Murder…. so how come Farm Town has no Beef? No succulent baby lambs raised on rich chemical concoctions? A farm without meat is like a beach strewn with sed hypodermic needles…oh wait, that’s Lake Erie …is like a sky without sonic booms rattling my Wah every hour.