Choosing Technologies

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote:

The opposite of manliness isn’t cowardice; it’s technology. ― The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

I think he oversimplified, but there is truth behind the statement. While technology in and of itself is not unmanly, dependence on it certainly can be. So how does a man evaluate the various technologies around him, and decide to what extent to make use of them?

A number of questions must be asked when evaluating a technology. The obvious first two questions are benefit and cost. What benefit will I gain from making use of this technology? How much will it cost me to make use of this technology? However, there are other less obvious questions that are also important: If I adopt this technology, am I in a worse place when/if it fails than I would be if I had never adopted it? Should this technology fail, is it easier or harder to repair myself than my current system? Will the regular use of this technology cause me to lose a skill that would be vital should the technology fail?

Here’s how this looks when I personally evaluate a few technologies:

Technology: GPS navigation for automobiles. Benefit: tells you how to get where you are going so that you can focus on driving; knows the shortest route by mileage, routes without tolls, and quickest route; can help you find the nearest Taco Bell or IHOP. Cost: approximately $100.00, or free as a system app on most computer-phones. Hidden costs: often leads to overconfidence (not having a map) and dependence (not being able to read a map or construct a route from a map). Conclusion: computer-phone app is useful for finding specific business or locations within a city; however, not worth adopting for interstate travel.

Technology: Amazon Kindle. Benefit: allows you purchase books at any time (even when bookstores are closed), with immediate delivery and without paying shipping costs; allows the transport and storage of entire library in a very small space. Cost: $70+, or free as an app on most computer-phones and computers. Hidden costs: no books can be read when device is out of battery, entire library can be lost if device fails or is stolen. Conclusion: worth it for the majority of reading due to ease of transport in travel and small size in limited living quarters; however, a select few of the most important and valuable books ought also to be possessed in physical form.

You may come to different conclusions based on your personal situation: the point is to make an informed decision rather than blindly adopting the newest technologies. Another question I ask myself is if the technology is designed to allow me to do less work, or to help me do more work. For example, a dish-washing machine in a home is designed to allow a person to do less work, while a dish-washing machine at a restaurant is designed to help a person do more work. I avoid as much as possible technology designed to reduce effort, but embrace much technology designed to maximize output. To shirk work is unmanly, but to try to accomplish as much as possible is not.

As you consider what technologies you will and will not adopt or be dependent on, don’t become mesmerized by the the coolness of the latest do-hickeys that can do 1,001 things. Rather, examine actual benefits, hidden costs, and consequences of failure. And don’t forget to have a back-up plan.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. —1 Thess. 4:11 (NET)

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