As I plod along in my daily swim upstream, I have the occasional epiphany that makes me pull over into an eddy behind a rock and contemplate my situation. Gradually, I have been making better use of the Microsoft Office suite of products generously provided to me. Among those tools is MS Access. I have been devising database tools to help me keep various kinds of data available for quick retrieval as well as access to the source documents. For some of us, it helps for retrieval tools to be as visual as possible.

As I put the finishing touches on my latest creation, it dawned on me what a rube I was. Again I had fallen into the technology trap. Instead of making a case for administrative help, I had merely taken another step along the path of telescoping increasing job responsibilities into my work week.

It suddenly became crystal clear. Microsoft products have facilitated the near complete extinction of whole job descriptions. In times past, highly trained employees were given assistants to leverage or multiply their activity. Assistants would attend to organization of information and limit access to their boss. In this way, employees could focus on performing the expensive skills they were hired for.  To a very large extent, personal computers have rendered obsolete what used to be an ordinary working duo- a manager/specialist and an administrative assistant.

This working pair has been replaced with “personal productivity tools” that allow- require, really- that the specialist take care of all of the correspondence, filing, categorization, phone-tag, drop-in visitors, requisitions, expense reports, etc., required for the job. In most organizations I am familiar with, expensive specialists are expected to be their own office managers, file clerks, and receptionists.

Th’ Gaussling can be a bit slow on the uptake, so I’m sure others have already noted this effect long ago.

In a similar vein, James Kunstler writes about another consequence of technology. Here, he is making reference to electronic voting machines, but the notion applies well to another marketing scam: compulsory excess capacity or capability. Another way to say it is, a high tech “solution” to a low tech problem.  

  What many people are nervous about, of course, is the chance of shenanigans with the voting tally. Just one minor feature of the general paralysis gripping this society has been our inability to get rid of those mischievous Diebold computerized voting machines that leave no paper trail. By the way, these touchscreen voting units are an example of the diminishing returns of technology. There was nothing wrong with the old mechanical units, but by making over-investments in complexity we’ve just created more problems for ourselves. This ought to be a warning to those in the thrall of techno-triumphalism.

How many people make full use of most of the features of, well, any of their software? When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you are the largest software company in the Milky Way Galaxy, everything looks like a software solution opportunity.