Time utilization by citizens

Date: 5 Jan 15
By: Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
2252 Joyce St.,
Burlington, ON Canada L78R 2B5
905 634 9538
For: Letters@theeconomist
Re: In search of lost time, Dec. 20

Dear Editors:

You give barely a phrase to the most important 21st century time consumer when you say (p. 96): “Many spend their spare moments staring at a screen … “

The majority of people in developed countries now spend many hours per day “staring at a screen”. Grandparents anticipating with pleasure an infrequent meal with their grandkids get only to study the tops of their heads as they bend over their smart phones. Company employees are found to be playing games on Company time. Porn is everywhere. Interactive games consume huge internet resources. Whole billion-dollar industries grind happily onward creating no-value-added “products” where “value” is defined as something useful and consumable, from an inspiring church sermon to a 747 airliner.

These vast trillions of manhours must come from somewhere. Probably they in large part replace productive work that was once done routinely by humans who have now been captured as if in a Thracian net of Greek mythology, unable to use their traditional weapons of intelligent labor applied to useful tasks.

Reinforcing this view of time utilization, you have “Frothy com” on p. 101, documenting the scores of billions of dollars of investment in high quality system hardware and software now devoted to supporting stupendous volumes of Internet traffic much, perhaps most, of which is simply trivial.

On the other side of this coin is the imposition upon hapless users of poorly designed programs written by folk unable to create, say, an ordinary invoice according to centuries-old rules of bookkeeping; along with mystifying menus that require the deductive skills of an Alan Turing to navigate to some required result.

On an even more serious note, airline pilots now fly a computer, not the airplane. If some major malfunction or storm forces the computer to turn the work over to the pilot, the human no longer can fly the airplane safely. Witness the Air France tragedy in the South Atlantic in which the three experienced captains could not understand what the computer was trying to tell them, and flew the airplane into the ocean.

Thanks to Information Technology, it is not clear that we any longer have control over our own time or our own jobs and lives. Perhaps the movie 2001 was merely ahead of its time.

Cheers,

F.

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