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Wed Jan 16, 2013, 03:43 PM

 

Devolution: Welcome to the World Where Things Donít Work Well

When I took the introductory fine arts course in college... one of the ideas that stuck with me was devolution. The instructors used that word in a very particular way, to apply to the changes that took place in late Roman art. Drill technology improved to the point where drills could be used to help create sculpture: they were faster and cheaper to use than chisels and hammers. But the results were cruder. It was easy to identify a late Roman bust: the curls and eyes were much coarser than in earlier Roman or Greek work.

Now itís probable that drills, by making it cheaper to produce sculpture, allowed for more sculpture to be made. But I never heard that mentioned in that long-ago course, so Iím not sure. And I didnít hear of a two tier market, with the more labor intensive, more finely crafted work being produced for a more discerning clientele, and the drill work being more of a mass product. The impression I had was that the new drill technology became a new normal, replacing the older methods.

Itís become fashionable to discuss the creeping decay in advanced economies, particularly the US, both in term of third worldification and end of empire. The more apocalyptic turn to theories of collapse from writers like Jared Diamond and Jacques Tainter. But I think they miss one aspect that may prove to be important, that of how the pursuit of efficiency doesnít always produce net gains, as economic theory might tell us. The measure of productivity, more stuff per unit input, misses how service/product quality can deteriorate. Some of this is deliberate: I have readers in comments regularly lament how old durable goods and tools were more reliable and lasted longer than contemporary versions. But there are other aspects of the downside of the willy-nilly pursuit of efficiency that have become so routine we accept these indignities and often donít recognize them...

Letís look at banking. The public has become desensitized to the fact that banks do something that is still rather amazing: they handle a ginormous volume of transactions, and they give you a report, every month, of what happened to you...The first wave of technology implementation was led by people who were sufficiently concerned about maintaining old service standards that my impression is that the service change was a net gain...But in the last year, Iíve experienced and/or heard of things that would have been seen as serious failings of transaction processing, and the number is so large that I no longer think this is just random...

It may seem as if Iím making a big deal over a series of transactions, but you need to understand the importance of payment systems to get the significance. Bank employees should understand how their systems work, since systems mow are much of what banking is about. And banks have long been designed to give high priority to achieving accuracy in payments processing. The kinds of failings Iíve seen in bank payment processing is like seeing the power dim in an electrical system when itís not at peak load. These are signs that corners are being cut, and not just in one place.

And, to come full circle, this trend to devolution may be a driver of collapse. At this point, all I have is anecdote and intuition. But one of the things I found frustrating about Tainter is that he posited that increasing social complexity led to increasing energy demands, and those led to collapse. He also pointed out that sometime the elites in a society succeeded in pulling it out of a dive path, and other times they didnít. Yet he refused to give social factors any explanatory power in his theory (like, say, rising levels of corruption among the ruling classes)...



Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/01/devolution-welcome-to-the-world-where-things-dont-work-well.html#ma4zoq4s1J6Fc9Ws.99




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Reply Devolution: Welcome to the World Where Things Donít Work Well (Original post)
HiPointDem Jan 2013 OP
patrice Jan 2013 #1
annatee33 Jan 2013 #2
lumberjack_jeff Jan 2013 #3
randome Jan 2013 #4
infidel dog Jan 2013 #5
Egalitarian Thug Jan 2013 #6
moondust Jan 2013 #7
XemaSab Jan 2013 #8

Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Wed Jan 16, 2013, 03:46 PM

1. oh yeah!!

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Wed Jan 16, 2013, 03:51 PM

2. Also DEVO is a rockin' band! n/t

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Response to annatee33 (Reply #2)

Wed Jan 16, 2013, 04:16 PM

3. Are we not men? n/t

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Wed Jan 16, 2013, 04:21 PM

4. Very interesting.

I like how the author points out that some of this is merely anecdote and intuition. It's still a good read.

Regarding technology, what we truly want is to have everything available all the time and instantly. It's a 'goal' we will never reach because each time we take a step in that direction, the parameters change and we suddenly want more and different things out of it.

The Internet right now is so graphics heavy we sometimes can't get pages served to us in a reasonable time. We have entirely lost sight of the fact that computers were meant to process information and not simply display colorful graphics.

As an example, I can go to DOS and get a listing of files in a folder much faster than going through Windows Explorer. That's because Windows Explorer is graphics intensive even for a simple chore like displaying a list. It drives me mad sometimes.

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Wed Jan 16, 2013, 07:26 PM

5. Yes, I get the strange feeling I'm living in the Roman Empire, the 3rd century A.D. myself...

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Thu Jan 17, 2013, 01:11 AM

6. K&R Good read. n/t

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Thu Jan 17, 2013, 02:44 AM

7. Pursuit of efficiency in the pursuit of profits.

Cutting corners until there are no corners left to cut. Have the corporatists not anticipated that day? What to tell Wall Street when they've run out of profitability tricks?

A recent desktop PC upgrade nightmare with multiple defective "new" parts has had me wondering about this subject quite a bit lately.

K/R

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Thu Jan 17, 2013, 03:04 AM

8. I think part of it is creeping give-a-shit-itis and a couple other factors

I really like the projects that I have been working on lately. I think they're good projects.

That being said, I got chewed a new asshole over the phone yesterday by the client, who was pissed that I didn't change every use of the word "purchase" to "buy" and every use of the word "assist" to "help" and about 20 other examples, because the document has to be in accordance with the Plain Language Act or some shit like that.

(My boss was rolling her eyes and making jerkoff motions at me while the client was saying this, BTW. )

Even though I want to do a good job on the project, I don't give a shit about the Plain Language Act. I would even say that I am hostile towards it.

It makes my job basically straightening deck chairs at taxpayer expense. The ultimate fate of the project becomes less important than making some bureaucrat happy. Time spent looking for inconsistencies in things like project descriptions (which could kill the project) are spent doing globals for perfectly normal English words.

I also think that it's about dumbing the document down. If you got off the boat from Laos yesterday and the word "assist" is confusing to you, go get a dictionary. Meanwhile, what should be a technical document is turned into a Dick and Jane story.

You can make a statue out of one-syllable words, but it's going to be an inferior statue.

But where I was going when I wrote the subject line is that 50 years ago, people had careers, but now people just have jobs. Who cares if the statue is going to fall apart in 50 years if it's going inside a building that's going to be knocked down in 20 years?

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