Read&Delete, January 2003:

Beware of The Stupid Network

 

Greetings, former children!

Throughout the travails in my life as an IT professional and engineer, I find that is increasingly difficult to function amongst my peers whilst steadfastly maintaining the minimalist attitude that I have held for most of my adult life.   The only acquiescence I have made to helping my forty plus brain is that now I carry a credit card sized pocket calendar and that my analog wristwatch also displays the day and date in a little window on its face. (Only because I travel between continents in my job.) I have a desktop computer at home and at the office, and a laptop to use when traveling, but I assure you that I can recall mentally the information that I entered into all three of them, and do not rely upon any of them for any phone numbers, scheduling information or frequently used e-mail addresses. Why is this? Because God has given me a brain- that's why!


  Nearly all my peers in the industry carry PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). They have names like 'Palm Pilot', 'Ipaq' and 'Clio' and are supposed to be able to handle billions of bits of data, thus replacing our memo pads, phone books and pocket notebooks.  They can do a lot more, like keep our schedules and phone numbers handy, and can connect to the Internet via our cell phones-- so we can do 'on the road' all the work that we should have done at the office.  I see lotsa guys standing outside conference rooms and in parking lots -- poking and scratching their little black boxes trying to remember where they are supposed to be and with whom. In my opinion PDA stands for PreDisposed to Alzheimer's and the little black boxes these folks carry are simply hand held remote controls for their own brains.

   The human brain is a device that does not need to be patented because no one can come anywhere near creating an acceptable substitute (like PDAs). The brain is self upgrading (if you exercise it) and far more powerful than you realize.  It requires no batteries, no hardware upgrades, is impervious to computer viruses, is not easily hacked into or stolen, and important data can be backed up and retrieved with pencil and paper-- using only a few keywords on a post-it note.  But all muscles are subject to atrophy. The analogy of  'use it or lose it' applies here, especially when good meat of the mind is replaced with mental fat.
   
But the PDA guys argue with me, saying that they keep information in their Palm Pilots in order to free up space in their brains for 'more important information.'   The data usually relegated to their PDAs is stuff like phone numbers, birthdays, anniversaries, and their schedule.  I disagree. This type of information is actually very important and should not be trusted to some plastic battery operated toy.  Some dates are critical (like wedding anniversaries and spouse's birthdays) and should be committed to permanent memory lest woe befall you (forget them a few times and you might not need to remember them anymore.)  Having to consult your PDA for your boss's name and phone number is a VERY BAD sign.  Do you know where you need to be an hour from now? How about tomorrow? If you need to power up your auxiliary brain to find out -- then you are either senile or moving too fast.

Again, those indoctrinated into the professional Portabrain set argue with me.  They need the phone numbers of their colleagues and go-to guys handy in order to 'get all the answers' quickly in order to 'save the day', 'close the deal' or more importantly-- cover their---- well, assets.    This process is called "Just In Time" knowledge-- (or as I call it)-- Stupid Networking.   This is where, say, five employees working together on a project each know about one-fifth of an employees'  worth of knowledge about it .  All five have their cell phones on 24 hours a day and call each other almost constantly seeking and giving information that if any one of them had full possession of wouldn't need the other four. 


Actually, the Stupid Network (at least the American version) has its roots buried in the bowels of bureaucracy, dating back to about the time of the great depression, and made its first official appearance during the FDR administration.  One of the programs that FDR espoused was the National Recovery Act (or NRA- not the Charleton Heston version- by the way) The NRA was so riddled with red tape and waste-- that the acronym NRA stood for the National Run Around. As we all should know, the main job of any bureaucracy is simply to perpetuate itself, regardless of whether or not it is truly needed. This is accomplished by installing as many members as possible into the process and limiting the knowledge of each member to that which is involved in their own step- and little else.

 

 At first, the Stupid Network was used mostly as a run around, only to obfuscate responsibility for bureaucratic failures (I dunno-- ask Bob- he's the one who's *supposed* to know!), but with the advent of the Internet and cell phones-- Stupid Networking has been reborn as 'the new shared knowledge.  Remember the saying, "No one of us is smarter than all of us?" That famous saying used to be true until people started looking for the quick answers from the web and their cell phones, instead of thinking and solving for themselves. The motto of  The Stupid Network-"No one of us is smart enough to accomplish anything without involving all of us."

 

     And now the bureaucratic process has come to roost in the palms of our hands, and many now place greater reliance on their cell phones and the storage capabilities of their Palm Pilots than the capacity of their own brains. It is far less work to get the answer from somebody else- then it is to think it out for themselves, thus replacing personal cogitation and cognition with a Silicon Valley substitute.  In 1921, Thomas Edison (who in my opinion was the greatest thinker of his generation) wrote these words-- "There is no expedient to which a man will not resort in order to avoid the real labor of thinking.......... they just wont think!"

 

    I am not against networking -- even Edison had his version of it -- he assembled some of the brightest minds of the time into his organization.  But he didn't rely on anybody else to give him any answer that he was not willing to investigate on his own.. What I am against is using two brains to do one brain's work--by looking for the fast answer--thus giving up the chance to learn a new idea or become proficient in some new skill that would mean a far greater benefit later on. 

 

   So- before you push the 'help' button on your PDA or call your 'go-to guy' to find out some piece of information that you could probably figure out if you weren't in such a hurry-- do yourself a favor and figure it out on your own.  Spend two minutes in your own brain, instead of ten minutes looking for somebody else's to do the same job.  It won't hurt you, your brain will grow and you will become wiser. Your memory will last a lot longer than your Palm Pilot, and soon you will be able to snicker a little while watching the folks on the Stupid Network log on to each other's brains trying to figure out how to do a 'screen print'.  

 

Gotta go..... it's time to practice mental calisthenics (quadratic equations)  

Neil

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