Technology — Its Best and Worst

I had dinner the other day with the CEO of a revenue control manufacturer and every other word he said was “technology.”  “Our technology”, “their technology,” “cloud based technology,” “app technology.” I had no clue what he was talking about.

The textbook definition of ‘technology’ is:

1. The application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives.

2. The scientific method and material used to achieve a commercial or industrial objective.

3. Electronic or digital products and systems considered as a group: a store specializing in office technology.

4. Anthropology. The body of knowledge available to a society that is of use in fashioning implements, practicing manual arts and skills, and extracting or collecting materials.

I see number 4 as the one we need to remember. But do we.
We have vast amounts of knowledge available to us to fashion implements and extract or collect materials. Super. But what exactly are we going to do with the materials we have extracted or collected. Do we have the expertise or planning to take that information and actually do something with it?
Frankly, I’m not so sure. There are tens of thousands of parking facilities in the US. The vast majority of them are run by underpaid managers who are promoted usually based on their time in service or popularity with their owners. They are expected to have a working knowledge of complex computer systems. So let’s assume they learn everything they need to know about a Federal APD or Amano McGann system. In less than five years I can guarantee that one of two things is going to happen. Either they are going to be transferred to another garage that has a system in place with which they are unfamiliar OR the system in their location will be replaced with one of a different vendor. That’s how it works.
Technology is moving quickly. If you are over 16 years old the chances are you don’t even know what an ‘app’ is, never mind how to use it. Sure you mutter buzz words like “android” or “Apple,” “G4” or “bandwidth” but do you have the slightest clue what it actually means?The technology is there, but do we have the background to make proper use of it. That “body of knowledge” mentioned above is huge and everchanging. Who the hell can actually make sense of it. The smart phone is quick, fast, and enables us to put our schedules on it and take pictures, but does it make the words we use when we talk or write any better?
A fast talking salesman goes to an owner and drops a few bits of techno babble and since we are all trained to believe that new is better and that techno is best, suddenly all our common sense goes out the window and we spend millions to get the latest and greatest, never considering exactly how it is going to be used in our facility.
Cities today are installing wifi networks so their citizens can be ‘on line.’ Fair enough, but have you ever seen one that actually worked?  Hell, I can hardly make wifi work in my living room when I can see the transmitter 20 feet away.  Yet we expect the technology to work in concrete and steel cities with airplanes, helicopters, buses, trains, trucks, cars and other such devices in between us and the transmitter. Have we lost our minds?  (BTW — in many cities that same wifi network you can’t sign on to with your iPad is being asked to carry information that is going to be used to set parking rates.)
Will it work someday?  Maybe?  But lets assume it works perfectly. Who is going to maintain the hardware and software to keep it working? Who is going to read and UNDERSTAND the data that is collected? Who is going to take that understanding and use it to make decisions that affect our business? Do we have the techno geeks who can make the stuff work, and do we have the MBAs that are going to use the stuff to make our business better? Can you honestly answer those questions? I know I can, and they are both in the negative.
Victor Davis Hansen wrote the following about technology:

Use it — but beware that at best the speed, ease of use, and greater awareness at our fingertips simply accelerate, emphasize, and accentuate whether we are dunces and boors or pretty informed and decent folk. And at worst, it is more likely to make us the former rather than the latter

Think about it.


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