Wednesday, May 03, 2017

What Hands, Brains and Eggs Have In Common

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, May 3, 2017, by Sara Jewell. 

Every day, I hold an egg in my hand. It’s a marvelous creation: smooth, oval, easy to open, full of nutrients. In the ten thousand years since the first chicken crossed the road, there have been no improvements to the egg. It remains, in its simplicity and familiarity, perfect.
Every day, I hold my smart phone in my hand. It, too, is a marvelous creation: smooth, rectangular, somewhat easy to use, full of stuff I’ll never understand. Recently, my phone performed a software update, so now I hold in my hand a phone that looks different ten months after I bought it.
When the update was completed, the icons, the font and the background were all changed. I don’t like them. I don’t find them as bold or as easy to read. The changes are not improvements; they seem to be changes for the sake of change.

This reminds me that in Nova Scotia, we are now in the season of our discontent, a.k.a. in the midst of an election. Whenever a party forms a new government, there are changes: departments are renamed, logos are redesigned, policies are redefined, new ideas are launched. Too many changes are made for the appearance of improvement.
Ask any long-time elementary school teacher if the curriculum changes in math and language arts over the last three governments have made teaching more efficient or students more literate.
This is the frustrating dichotomy of human nature: we resist change, yet we can’t make changes fast enough. We want everything to stay the same, yet we can’t resist new models.

But change for the sake of change – a new camera icon that is less noticeable than the previous one, a new way of teaching reading that doesn’t actually teach a student how to read, changing the Ministry of Rural Development to the Department of Business – is the symbol of how we fail as humans, as politicians, as managers, as so-called innovators. Technology has seduced us into believing that constant change is necessary, improvements are steps forward, and bigger/better/faster is the only way to go.
Yet when best-selling author Diana Gabaldon, who writes the successful Outlander novels, created her main female character, who would be travelling back in time to the mid-1700’s, she didn’t choose a woman from our technological era.
“I wanted her to have medical skills but she couldn’t be modern,” Gabaldon said during her recent lecture at the Frye Festival in Moncton. “She couldn’t be on a battlefield calling for an MRI.”
So Gabaldon created a nurse from the World War Two era, when the use of antiseptic, anesthesia, and antibiotics were widespread, but before we became dependent on technology to do everything for us, including think. She chose a character from a time when we could fix people and machines with our hands and our brains, and with whatever was laying around wanting to be useful, a character who could solve problems without consulting a computer.

We are in election mode now in Nova Scotia, which means that no matter who forms the next government, we can expect an improved, updated and renamed chicken when all we want are more simple, perfect eggs.

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