Digital Efficiency Is A Myth

One of the basic assumptions is that all technology is digital, which is quite untrue. Digital technology operates on a very simple principle, a state being either on or off. That’s it, that’s all she wrote. Not very complex, nothing extraordinary to understand. In a computer, the current is a flow of electrons through various gates when they are open. When the gates are closed, there is no flow of electrons. Like water in your piping system at home. We can separate water into every molecule, but one can’t send a single molecule at a time through that pipe. The molecules flow as a group, an aggregate, if you like. Analog really rules the world as we know it. The car that you drive may have an electronic readout for speed but the measurement is analog. Could the speed of your car be measures by a digital device? Yes, very simple principle. Place a reflectors on the wheel at equal distances apart and shine a light that can be reflected back to a light meter. There you go, digital reading, off/on. The time between off and on gives us the relative speed of the wheel. And we could a digital transmission medium to send the digital information to the digital read out’s computer.

But does changing to a digital readout of an analog event really change anything? Well, if does make other individuals who make such systems a little wealthier and those who make the various components for such systems a little wealthier. The change comes but not without cost. The complexity is in the change of the system, not its use. Consider your example of a clock. The earth turns on a regular rotational speed. Thus we can divide that analog travel into periods of equal value. Our hours could be divided into smaller units such as 1/36th. Or we could prefer units equal to 1/4th of each revolution. Why twenty four? Would our ability compute time be enhanced if the ISO standard required time to be measured in units on ten and one hundred? A “Metric” time system. Well, try that with electricity and see what it gets you. Are digital clocks better for the “telling” of time. What do you see when you look at the face of an analog clock? Did you ever stop to consider what that face represents? A relation to the whole of a day and a night. If the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the three I know it is three o’clock. But I can also see the relationship of three to the other numbers and instantly recognize the relationship of the hours to the minutes. Three is also fifteen minutes after the hour. It is a quarter way through the hour. Digital technology has done nothing for time. Can today’s third graders use an analog watch to tell the time of day?

Well, what about our communications technologies? Oh god, how many people cannot do without their cellphones? How many would die if they couldn’t use their smart cell phones. We just have to be connected to the internet. You are a trader, what would you do with out your smart cell phone or tablet? But trading is little more than gamboling, speculation that the price will go up or down in your favor. You aren’t buying stock in a company and betting that the company will make a profit this year, one that is a little larger than last year. You are betting using the greater fool theory. But you need the technology, the applications, the noise you can’t do without to tell you when to buy and sell. Is all that technology really that efficient? The trend is our friend until it isn’t. Unlike Face book, the trend doesn’t “un-friend” us in a timely manner. Back in the old days or last century one stayed in contact with the market using that invention derived from the telegraph, the stock market ticker tape machine. They were the ubiquitous noise generators of their day. Has much changed since that time? Actually, yes. We’ve added new machines that make new noises. We have followed that age old dictum that if a little of a good thing is good, then it follows that a lot must be so much better than good. Technology is rather neutral to our plight. If some news is good for our trading the a lot of news will make us billionaires.

Technology only deals with ones and zeros. Application programs are technology, per se. Programming is not technology per se. Did you ever try to build a stone cathedral? Suppose you lived back in the tenth century and want to build the best church monument. Well, first, when one quarries stone it tends to come out in irregular sized chunks. Did you ever dress a stone? That is not easy work, takes skill, years of doing to find the right consistent angle of your chisel and the right force for the hammer. Then you have to put them in the right place and at the right time. You can try and do some sort of calculations for stress but much of the building is trial and error. Those buildings that fall down in failure aren’t around long, the stone gets used in other buildings. That is what your application programs really are, buildings that stand for a while and then fall down do to some occurrence. The problem is that we don’t program our new technology to cut through the noise and get to the heart of the matter. Instead we multitask our way through it learning nothing of importance. We use technology as a shortcut, a way to make things easy for the sake of easiness. And not all technology that changes our ways of working are high tech.

When the spinning jennies and the weaving looms were invented two things happened. One, a great many families were thrown out of work since the weaving of cloth often relied on the wife and children helping to spin the yarn while the husband/father wove the wool into a product that he could sell to a merchant. The second thing that happened is that the price of clothing was reduced. And once the machines were adapted to cotton their use had international consequences. On the other hand, the assembly line was rather low tech by most standards. The classic example is the automobile factory. Prior to the assembly line every car was assembled by a group on one car at a time. It might require ten or twelve individuals to assemble that one car and the time for assembly was dependent on the slowest individual. The assembly line forced all individuals to work at the same pace but limited their individual needs for more than rudimentary skills. The aircraft industry uses a form of the assembly line but the vehicles assembled are much to large to be moved around by conveyer belt. However, you might take a look at the Bell Aircraft film made about 1941 on how the P-36 Air Cobra was assembled. Henry Ford’s assembly line did a number of things in that industry. The first is that it reduced the time to assemble an automobile, reducing carrying costs. Second, it reduced the skill level needed to assemble an automobile and hence reduced labor costs. Third, the designers and engineers needed to rethink how to design and put together an automobile that took advantage of the assembly line. And forth, it reduced the cost of making that automobile so that more individuals could afford to buy one.

Technology reduces the noise, it forces one to think through how one works, does things. It does not make the world more complicated, it simplifies the world. Complication only occurs when we introduce complications. The assembly of today’s automobiles is a little more complicated because we have introduced electronic components such as computer control modules. The service of these newer automobiles has become very complicated because one needs special training and equipment to work on the engines and so forth. We can still change the flat tire if we must. But in other areas such as logistical planning and analysis computers are helpful but the main “technology” is the high levels of mathematics used by those who manage spare parts for electronics and aircraft industries. Computers and their associated programs are the “Industrial Muscle” of the machine age used to amplify the work of the logistics experts. This is what technology should do and in fact does. But social media is not technology. When the transistor radio first came our it used one or perhaps two transistors. It needed several diodes, depending of the design and function of the radio. But add in a couple of different radio bands, a few more functions such as a bass selector, and so forth and suddenly radio designers could boast of ten or even twenty transistors being used. The fact is, a transistor can be used as a simple diode. All those extra transistors meant nothing exciting in real life, just a waste of function.

This is what social media does, it wastes the very function for purely marketing purposes. Does your “smart phone” have super smart capabilities that you never will use? Then what was the point of adding all that functionality that very few people ever use? How many start-up raise billions for apps that purport to save us time and money (unless we buy the IPO after the VC people unload their shares) have really made that much of a difference in productivity? How many of these apps enabled cures for cancer and other diseases? How many enabled the development of the newest and greatest electric vehicle? It’s really trophy collecting. What apps do you have and what do they do and how did you ever breathe on the face of this planet before acquiring them? Now if you have to have all that stuff, good for you, it’s your life and you can fill it up with as much junk as you wish. I do have a laptop and that is my connection to the markets and the more reliable sources of news. I also write posts for my own blog. But I refuse to pay to advertise my blog just to attend to my vanity as a writer. Other than that, I do not text, do selfies, have a Face book account, use social media, or stuff like that. I do have a cell phone that I keep around for emergencies but I use my land line for communication. Now I used to be somebody in telecommunication back about 2000. I know voice, data, cable tv, and half a dozed other protocols. I loved technology, god it was good. I had several years with a license to play and did I have a really great time. Then the world came to an end and I was left out in the cold. It took a couple of years of driving truck cross country for me to realize technology didn’t love me, didn’t need me, and I didn’t need it. All that new technology gave me a perspective I never had before. It’s all great stuff but strangely one doesn’t need it to live a good life.

Digital technology is only efficient when we use it to simplify our lives, not complicate it. We forget that it carries a conversion penalty. Most things in life don’t really need it. I mean, why use a transistor when all you need is a diode? Maybe you should start asking yourself how you can simplify your information needs. It’s like mining the beach sands by the old Sutro Bath house, a lot of gold in that sand but the operations needed to make it profitable depend on a high price per ounce of gold. And the kicker is that the price is relative, isn’t it?


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