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Is Impatience a Virtue? September 7, 2012

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software tools, Technology and Culture.

I grew up in a household of very limited means.  If I wanted something beyond the basics, I had to save my paper route (do those still exist?) money, do odd jobs for pocket change, and in general deprive myself for weeks or months until I had the funds necessary.  I waited, somewhat patiently, until a desired goal was within my grasp.  Such an upbringing probably contributed to my not getting caught up in the credit economy, and coming out of the economic shocks of the last decade or so relatively unscathed.

But there are technology trends favoring impatience.  Thanks to the speed and ubiquity of Google, we have access to information that in the past may have been completely unavailable, or at least would have required hours or days of research in the local library.

Now Evan Selinger makes the claim that tools such as the iPhone Suri are turning impatience into a virtue.  When we want to know an answer, we ask Suri.  We may not even trust our own senses, instead preferring to ask the one who has all of the information (“Siri, is it raining outside?”).

He quotes MIT Research Fellow Michael Schrage (who was the only columnist worth reading in Computerworld circa early 1990s) as saying “How would you be different if you regularly had seven or eight conversations a day with your smartphone?”

I’m not calling any of this a bad thing.  We have the tools to be more knowledgeable and informed individuals, which may make us better consumers, better citizens, and more tolerant of other points of view.  Technology that aims to please ultimately makes it more accessible to more people.  These are generally good outcomes.

But it is different than the way we functioned in the past, and may have implications to our daily lives, from how we process information to how we make decisions.  I’ve always believed that no decision should be made before it had to be made, so that we can watch how information played out over time.  Having information so seamlessly available may mean that we’ll think we know more than we do, and make decisions more quickly.  That may not be the best outcome.



1. immolator - September 10, 2012

Due to my profession, I cannot forget that this is neither magic, nor uber-wisdom. These are algorithms coded by humans and databases fueled and maintained by humans. Errors, bugs and, from time to time, bad intentions 😉 frozen in binary world.
Another aspect is confidence. Or lack of it. In the real world authority is something we build through the entire life. We relay on opinions from people we know, trust and like. With technology, especially if we move beyond simple facts like the current weather conditions, we may end up in a land of the common denominator… Maybe something not entirely wrong, but as fan of good, old SF books, I see this as a threat. Technology could not replace knowledge. If it does, we land in a bad, bad place.

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