Pete’s Weekly: The Matrix and Humanation

The Matrix and Humanation

Many years ago, possibly long before you were born, paper was big. Clever fellows like Leonardo (da Vinci, not the turtle) and Einstein used it a lot.

Before PCs arrived, I did so as well.

Paper is a very real medium to capture, for instance, numbers. A page of very rough calcs allows one to see how rubbish the base data is, so you treat the numbers with the dubious respect they deserve. When the modern age arrived (circa 1984), so did spreadsheets. This allowed us to disguise the provenance of any numbers and quickly produce bold documents which gave the numbers the stature of the Ten Commandments.

And when the web arrived (circa late nineties for most of us), so did email. And it is email that I want to talk about because it is, frankly, evil, an incarnation of the devil. I speak not of spam, which is, if anything, a light relief as it often carries the hope of a new, and bigger, future provided one invests in the appropriate accoutrement.

I have spent the past 15 years in the quest of a surefire way to have an empty inbox at the end of each day. I am happy to say I have found the answer. More about that in a while.

Some time ago Peter Bowen and I were talking about automating a business process. Sadly we could not automate each activity, and we alighted on the concept of ‘humanation’. This is where the process stops, pending a human intervention, which then nudges the process onto the next step. As long as the worker could read, and type a few characters, we could MacJob the process.

I remembered this a few nights ago as I laboured with more incoming emails than Telkom gets complaints. I realised that my InBox was in charge. I was merely a cog in its machine, rather than the other way round. The Internet was humanating me.

It is not just the constant flow of intrusions. It is that each swallows more hours than we have. Thirty years ago we had time to think. We could leave the office knowing that nobody could call us because no one had yet invented mobile phones, which allow the bank to chase you even while you are enjoying a brief respite in the lavatory. Or the kids to call for money at even more inappropriate times.

No mobile phones meant we could hide behind a wall of people whose employment depended on protecting our privacy. No more. Each of us stands exposed to the collective mass of humanity who feel the need to have their say, usually unhappily, and usually inside my inbox.

Worse, after working in the worlds smallest cubicle for 18 hours, there is nothing to show that we have achieved, in a single day, the amount of work that was done (just a decade ago) over three months by fourteen slaves. But that’s not the worst: After a sleepless night we face the same treadmill tomorrow.

And so I switched everything off. The lights of the house brightened a tad, and off I took myself to the local Staples where I bought a diary, as used by Leonardo and his ilk. And I started to work the way we used to, before Technology with a capital letter started, and the paperless office looked like something we might want.

My PC still has an empty inbox, because by the time I get to it, whatever was urgent (but not often important) isn’t any longer. And any site that is likely to ping me with updates or tweets no longer has a favoured place in my browser. (It is, I have discovered, quite easy to stay up to date with all the folk I know by scanning FaceBook for just 10 minutes each week.)

And I am in charge again because I use my diary to decide what needs doing, drawing a green line though the goals and plans I fulfill. It is awfully visual. And, rather than email, I try and call anyone who seems to need it. Maybe it is not as efficient, but it sure is more effective, and a whole lot more fun.

I fear that our business lives have become reactive, in the sense that we think work is reacting to all that happenstance sends us. We used to think that being a Master of the Universe was forging ones own way in a global ocean. Now it just seems to be little more than batting the turds out of the way in somebody elses pond.

I think it is time to grab our future back from the machines.

All the best
Peter Carruthers

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