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The Innocent Lie: "They're Just Tools"

Posted By Walden Teagan, Friday, September 16, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

September 16th, 2011

Having advocated for technology use in higher education for 26 years, it was an unsettling realization:

Information technology is putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

Bank of America may be laying off 30,000 people because of their precarious financial situation but maybe the reason they can is because they can automate more processes that no longer need humans to manage them. The Postal Service, also, may be laying off 120,000 people because they are losing money, but the reason may also be that they can automate more jobs. Auto workers have been laid off in the tens of thousands because robots do much of the assembly line work. This pattern exists in industry after industry and in the service sector as well.

I parked in a parking garage in Cambridge, MA this week and, when trying to leave, found that my parking ticket would not work in the machine and that, also, there were no attendants in the garage. Attendants had been laid off because the machines could handle the exit payment processes. When a hidden attendant appeared after I hit the "call button," and forced the machine to accept my card, the machine let out persistent loud howls as if it was outraged I had created turbulence in its perfect world.

How many millions of the unemployed have been laid off because they were "redundant" since technology could now do their jobs? How much of this recession's distressing tenacity can be laid at the feet of information technology? And, at this point, who is serving whom? Is IT serving our humans ends? or are we serving the demands of information technology? How could we know? Who is in charge of what technology does?

And how do we technology "leaders" ameliorate the loss of jobs through our efforts in education? One suggestion: let's stop saying "they're just tools." That's disingenuous. We are well into deep transformation that is affecting everyone. Let's be honest about that, stop trying to trivialize the effects of technology and accept the deleterious as well as the extraordinary about IT, and instead focus on helping with the transformation.


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