The Multiplier Tool or… Not So Fast…

Technology by itself, contrary to popular beliefs, is neither good nor evil. It is a tool. More precisely, it is a multiplier tool. Technology multiplies what human beings can do. It multiplies the output from factories and farms. It also multiplies the killing power of the individual soldier or assassin. Fertilizers multiply grain and crop yields. Runoff of excess fertilizers ends up multiplying ocean algae blooms and making areas of oceans inhospitable to most life.

Modern social media makes social contacts and communication more widespread and possible than ever before. Paradoxically, it also multiplies loneliness and isolation. As recent events show, this communication system multiplies the spread of information, and, paradoxically, through belief-generated misinformation and “false news” multiplies the spread of ignorance. Use of fossil fuels has enabled great industrial and technological development, but it’s also created global warming at a rate never experienced before.

Those are general observations, but in individual cases, certain technological applications are clearly one-sided. Vaccines do far more good than harm. The harm is almost statistically undetectable, despite belief-inspired opposition. Use of biotechnology to create bioweapons benefits no one. The use of technology to turn rifles into what are effectively machine guns does far more harm than good.

The other aspect of technology is a failure of most people to understand that, with each new technology, or technological adaptation or advancement, there is both a learning curve and a sorting-out period before that technology is debugged and predictably reliable – and that period is just beginning – not ending – when the technology or application first hits the marketplace.

So… the late-adopters of new technology aren’t technophobes… or old-fashioned. They’re just cautious. But one of the problems today is the feeling by too many that it’s vital to be the first to have and use new technology or new apps. Over the years I’ve seen far more problems caused by rushing to new system and gadgets than by a deliberate reserve in adopting “the new stuff.” In addition, changing systems every time a manufacturer or systems producer upgrades wastes the time of employees and also creates anger and frustration that usually outweigh the benefits of being “early adopters.” Adopted too early or unwisely, technology can also multiply frustration and inefficiency.

Add to that the continual upgrades, and it’s very possible that the “drag effect” caused by extra time spent educating employees, installing upgrades, and debugging systems either reduces productivity or actually decreases it until reliability exceeds the problems caused by the “rush to the new.”

All of which is why I’m tempted to scoff at those individuals who rush to be the first with the newest and brightest gadget. But I don’t. I just wait a while until they’ve stumbled through all the pitfalls and most of the debugging. There’s definitely a place for “early adopters.” It’s just not a place where I need to be.

2 thoughts on “The Multiplier Tool or… Not So Fast…”

  1. Nick says:

    I grew up during the VHS vs Betamax war, and watching that unfold taught me to never be an early adopter. Something that has only been reinforced by Microsoft Wndows upgrades

  2. Wine Guy says:

    Cutting edge medical technology and medications are no different: once they’ve cleared Stage 3 testing, they’re ready for the public use…. but the first 5 years show: 1. if it really does what the manufacturer says it does, 2. if the side effects/drawbacks are really what the manufacturer says, and 3. what the law of unintended consequences was withholding until just the right time….

    Agreed. I only switched to a smartphone 3 years ago… and the only thing I really like about it is the texting and the phone. The rest of it just seems to be a powerful mini-computer waiting to be hacked.

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