Technology, Tools and Traps

By , 12 October 2007 7:19 pm

I have been busy this week, partly with getting hold of the new car. (Very nice, thank you.) But doesn’t everything take so much of an effort these days? The Octavia manual runs to 200 pages and that’s only the English; you are aware how far computers have made inroads into the world of the car.

One other thing that has occupied me this week has been trying to find an online calendar and To Do program that I can access from any computer at home or work and also from my Windows Mobile phone. As you may or may not be aware, there are some very fine products, such as Yahoo Calendar, Google Calendar and a few other things that are great for managing dates and appointments. There are also some very good pieces of task management software, and the one I have got the most mileage out of so far is the splendidly named Remember The Milk. Hitherto I have used Microsoft’s Outlook, but find that it has all sorts of limitations. Currently Google Calendar and Remember The Milk seemed to be the best combination, but transferring dates and times from Outlook into the online Google calendar is far from easy.

Why have I been so anxious to do this? It’s actually a very good question. The first answer is that I want to be able to organise my life, wherever I am. I want to be able to know what I have to do and when I have to do it. I want to be able to click on any computer and be told I have this marking, and this preparation to do. And, I would add, because I am not the most organised of people, this is vital. The reality is, I suspect something far deeper. It is a forlorn, doomed hope that I will find some wonderful piece of software that will actually do the work for me. I live in hope that there will be something that, with a few mouse clicks, will write those references on students, mark those papers and prepare those lectures. I acknowledge the full force of the curse on Adam in Genesis chapter 3, paraphrased from memory thus: ‘from now on, you will only earn a living by the sweat of your brow’. But I live in hope that somehow, somewhere I will find an exception to this rule. Incidentally, this is not why I write books. I write books for the same reason that I scratch my body; it’s an itch that needs attention. But yes, I’d love to write full-time.

This leads me to an intensely valuable piece of advice that I read over 20 years ago, which I share with you gladly in the hope that someone else might find it equally helpful. It was so striking that I can still remember where I read it: it was in an imported computer magazine (yes, they did have them in those days) in Antananarivo, Madagascar. It was a summary of some early work on two sets of managers: one IT literate, and the other IT illiterate. They had followed them for a couple of years to see how they progressed. To everyone’s surprise, the IT illiterates actually advanced faster up the corporate ladder than their colleagues. The reason, the writer concluded, was that the computer literates spent far too much of their time tweaking the software, learning tricks and helping other people sort out computer problems. The IT illiterates simply got on with their job.

Two decades and three or four jobs later, I can only say that this strikes me as being a very profound observation for writers, educators and everybody else. What technology gives with the one hand, it takes away with the other. Somewhere Stephen King talks about he calls ‘the world’s finest word processor: the Waterman fountain pen’. In an age when cars come with 200 page manuals, I know exactly where he is coming from.

8 Responses to “Technology, Tools and Traps”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey, I was wondering if there is any news on “infinite day” like release date or anything.
    Thanks

  2. dugmad says:

    Chris,

    It’s like I wrote your bog today! I completely understand your view point and hopes. Previously I had not mentioned that aside from my graphic design business I also teach graduating students at a major local College several design disciplines.

    We are, as are most industries, completely inbred with computers to get our work done and to press or online. I am forever telling my students not to rely on the computer to solve even a simple conceptual direction for them. Rather they should rely on sketching out their concepts to paper then make the computer do what you want it to to bring their idea to life.

    I will continue to preach that “the graphite pencil is the best computer for creating that our industry has ever seen.”

    On the calendar front, being a complete Mac user, I use the ical program and upload it to my ipod nano so I have it with me at all times. It does not have remote adjustability but is really convenient and is easy to operate. I keep all my boys hockey schedules and class times etc. as well all home based activities, all current and uploaded before I go home. I am in the midst of figuring out the isync capabilities so I can have my editable schedule at home on our brand new imac.

    Quick humerous note, when I first started my design business over 20 years ago, and computers were starting to infiltrate (infect?) the creative industry, I held firm and spread the gospel of having a “computer free studio”. I spoke with deep conviction and pride. Ahhhh the good old days. I would be lost today but for the 6 computers we have now. Gotta love em.

    sigh.

    Take care,

    Doug

  3. Chris says:

    Hi Anonymous,

    All I can say is that the editing is well advanced and the edited manuscript ought to be back at Tyndale in a months time. I have also seen (and approved) the draft of the artwork.

    And what I can say is that those few that have read the MSS really like it.

    I will post more news when I get it.

    Chris

  4. Terry says:

    Chris, your quandry regarding the use of computers and associated software to make life “simpler and easier” is one that is common, I think, to just about every field of work. I am a carpenter, and in my occupation of building homes, we have a similar dilemma, only with different tools.

    Air nailers have almost completely replaced hammers as the primary nail drivers, and large, fancy saws do the cutting. The problem is, all these tools take time to set up and take down. Many times I catch myself spending more time setting up the tools than a small job takes. Often I’d be better off with a handsaw and a hammer.

    There’s an interesting story about a U.S. army base and airstrip in Vietnam. (I’m not sure if it’s true or not; however, it’s still a good story). The base and airstrip operated for quite some time before some smart cookie figured out that the base was there to protect the airstrip, and the airstrip was there to supply the base. They were both abandoned shortly thereafter.

    When I look around at the lives of those around me (including my own), I often wonder how much of what we do will endure. So much time and energy is spent “setting up the tools”, or maybe we’re stuck in a closed loop like the guys in Vietnam. I’m reminded of the Lord’s admonition to “Be still, and know that I am God.” I don’t find myself being still very often. I’m also reminded of the warning, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

    Not that all action and business is barren, but much of it, truth be told, is.

    I’m currently reading about and researching some of the Christian monastic movements over the centuries. Surprisingly refreshing. Some of those ideals are very badly needed by the church in general these days, but to follow through with them would be such an uphill swim!

    One saying that I regularly preach to my workers is that “It’s all in the tools, and knowing how to use them.” With the right tools, and the right knowledge, you can do anything. And I think that applies to pretty well every arena of life.

    Take care.

    Terry

  5. smokey the dog says:

    “To everyone’s surprise, the IT illiterates actually advanced faster up the corporate ladder than their colleagues. The reason, the writer concluded, was that the computer literates spent far too much of their time tweaking the software, learning tricks and helping other people sort out computer problems. The IT illiterates simply got on with their job.”

    I wonder which was the “Christian” thing to do? I think Jesus would stop along the way and not “just get the job done.”

  6. smokey the dog says:

    I was wondering which was the more “Christian” thing to do? I think Jesus would have stopped to help, improve things, and not and “Just get on with the job.”

    I personally don’t have a cell phone or organizing software. I still do most of my writing and sketching with a pen and paper, and only later do I use a computer to add the graphics/layout.

  7. Chris says:

    Smokey,

    What would Jesus do here is another matter on top. And it adds an extra stress on Christians. I spend a lot of my time helping as an unofficial IT person. But nowhere near as much time as I do ‘messing around’ with software. Having to do software upgrades on your phone sucks!
    No answers here but we need to raise the questions!

    Chris

  8. Logan says:

    I thoroughly agree. For many years I had acquired skills in the computer world, things that would get me calls from friends with problems or family and neighbors who wanted a system built. And now for a few years I have told people, your better off with a dell, not because I like dell – quite the contrary homebrews are much better – but so much of my time was wasted working on these stupid machines that I could take it no longer.

    So I revert, now only doing my own computer work (because if I can for myself then why not, and I am not up-to-date enough now to do it for anyone else) but for the most part shunning the glowing screen in favor of a sturdy composition book and a fine point pen, gel of course.

    Your writings, short and long are a blessing.

    Logan

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