Sunday, April 5, 2009


the two most valuable phrases: "like I meant to" and "because I'm an idiot"

A Theory : The incorportion of new technologies into everyday life is making society more error-tolerant

The cost of making a mistake these days is smaller than it used to be. We are so accustomed to easily fixing small mistakes, we don't get as concerned when they pop up now and again. So we're becoming less careful and more error-prone.

In the days of Smith-Corona, a typo required you to get out something to correct your mistake. If you were lucky, you would have correction tape or paper, which, with little effort, would allow you to resume typing within a minute or so. If you were less lucky, you'd have correction fluid, which would necesitate a great deal of shaking, blowing, waiting and, if you were impatient, scraping of paper, cleaning of ribbon, shaking reapplying and waiting again.

People took the time to think and type carefully and thoughtfully. Because one or two stray fingers could really slow you down.

The computer then brought us a little miracle we soon could not live without: the delete key. Making a mistake was not such a big deal. You could simply go back and erase from memory the mis-type you made. In a fraction of a second, your error was gone, with no evidence of it ever having occurred.

Then came another miracle: the undo function. This let you correct the correction you made. Then spellcheck -- great if you take the time to actually pay attention to the corrections it is suggesting.

On cellphones and many standard phones today, if you key in the phone number and mis-press a number, you simply backspace and try again until you have the entire phone number correct. Then and only then do you assert that you have mastered the skill of dialling a number by confirming you wish to be connected. Other phones have a display to show you the number as you dial it - handy for those who are prone to suddenly forgetting what on earth they are doing. If you find yourself grasping a receiver in one hand and your other hand pointedly poised over the keypad, just look at the display "oh yes...I must be calling someone in Toronto...I've already pressed 416".

It should be obvious to all now that my inner crumudgeon id blossoming a few years too soon. But in case it wasn't clear... I have my parents' original rotary phone from back in the day. It still works. If I go to call someone and accidentally dial the last digit of their number incorrectly, I have to hang the phone up and start all over again. At one time I had the capacity to hold in my mind up to 10 digits at once.

I once had faith in my ability to dial. Now modern conveniences have hobbled my brain.

At every place I have worked, I have seen the volume of work per person skyrocket, along with the tolerance for errors. The repetitive conditioning of backspacing and reprinting has made people not think twice when they make a mistake. Sure, there may be great gnashing of teeth upon first noticing the error, but the remorse passes swiftly, and the cogs continue to turn.

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