The Uncounted Costs of Technology

In our fast-paced world, almost everyone praises technology, despite small gripes about occasional glitches. But, as I’ve noted before, technology is never an unmitigated blessing, nor is it nearly so cost-effective as its most enthusiastic supporters maintain.

The one problem that few commentators or analysts account for is the continual cost of the learning curve. Every time a computer program changes, those who employ it need to learn the changes and the additional applications, and seldom do either make the program easier or quicker. Every time a new computer application is developed and implemented, the same thing happens. Now… these are generally comparatively minor problems for the geeks and tech-types, but they’re not necessarily that minor for a large segment of the work force, even for high-level professionals, for whom technology is merely a tool and not an end-all and be-all.

I have a five year old computer. It works quite well and handles high-speed internet and the like. Already, however, I’m beginning to run into problems with other people’s information and applications, because my computer can’t take certain upgrades. If I attempt to install and use them, they freeze the computer. I’m certain that a high-level tech could fix some of these, or that if I wanted to invest a considerable number of hours in learning more about the programs and systems… so could I. Except… why exactly should I be faced with the choice of spending time or money to accommodate continual change? In practical terms, I have no choice… but it’s a cost that rapid technical change places on everyone not in the information systems field. It may place a cost on those people, too, but they’re paid for dealing with it. The rest of us aren’t.

In my professorial wife’s field, students expect more and more of the high-tech glitz in the classroom… and often refuse to study old-style recordings [in which refusal they are supported effectively by the administration’s pusillanimity and enthusiastic support of anonymous student evaluations] despite the fact that much of what the students need to study is not yet available in that high-tech forum… or is available only in formats directly incompatible with classroom technology and equipment, for which the administration does do not have funding to upgrade. So she’s spending much of her summer [totally unpaid] making conversions in order to be able to present material efficiently during the coming school year. She’s not a computer tech, and the learning curve is steep, but those who have the technical knowledge don’t have the musical knowledge, and even if she could find technical support, she’d not only have to pay them out of her own pocket, but would need to talk them through everything step by step.

In essence, the popular demand for only the latest technical offerings also imposes a cost on both business and education, a cost that’s not in the slightest paid by high-tech industry, but imposed willy-nilly on everyone else — and this doesn’t count the not-insignificant costs of applications rushed to market with flaws that cause even greater costs.

Do you suppose just a little bit more of a “slow and steady” philosophy might actually be more cost-effective?