Progress – Part 2 – Productivity Gains

Having worked in computer consulting for the majority of my career, I would say that automation and technology significantly increased and continues to increase worker productivity.  I was kind of paid to say that in my business, but I also believe it to be true.  But how much has it increased the value we get from our lives?

Bypassing the Blessing/Curse Debate

For our purposes here, let’s go with the assumption that automation has increased productivity in the past 30 – 40 years.  I know there are some who say the personal computer made word processors of us all, or that e-mail and cell phones have created an electronic leash for 24-hour employees…in many ways, I don’t disagree, but overall, I think it is safe to say that it takes a lot fewer employees to produce the same output that was produced in 1983 (as described in my last blog entry).

For argument sake, lets use the department I worked in at the bank in 1983.  We had 11 employees (3 officers and 8 staff) performing the work to administer expatriate benefits to our employees stationed on international assignments.

The same work could easily be done today with one or two officers and two staff members.  When you add in the technical support required from the systems folks supporting the newly automated office, let’s just say this department increased it’s productivity enough to reduce staffing to a half of what it was in the early eighties.

This was a highly administrative function, and so it benefitted more from automation-based productivity gains than other types of work, so let’s just say that automation reduced staffing in this country by 25% over the course of the last 35 years.  I’d say that’s a conservative estimate, but for our discussion, let’s just use that.

Here are some of the areas where I see that automation has made most folks more efficient:

  • Generate, store, navigate and edit documents with ease
    • Memos
    • Proposals
    • Promotional Materials
    • Instruction Manuals
    • Signage
    • Web pages
  • Communicate more quickly, clearly, cost-effectively and efficiently
    • E-mail
    • Electronic Messaging
    • Voice and Video
      • Voice Over IP
      • Video Meetings
      • International voice/video apps
      • Cell phone
    • Remote working capabilities
  • Document sharing
    • E-mail attachments
    • Electronic signatures
    • Internet publishing of documents
    • Document downloads
    • File sharing/editing
It’s clear that not only has it become significantly easier to conduct business, but the ability to create significantly higher quality documents has also increased.  Imagine what it would have taken to produce a stockholder meeting presentation like they do today in multi-media format with graphics and video that can be designed and generated in a fraction of what a similar presentation in the mid-eighties (if it even could be produced).
What have you seen as the result of all this increased productivity?  Is work easier in today’s world than it was in the 1980’s?  Do employees work less and enjoy more leisure time because of efficiencies gained via automation?  Do workers get to spend more time with family, friends and loved ones?  Has automation allowed us to be more in touch with our friends and social network?
Here are some of the benefits I’ve seen:
  • Less effort required to generate the same output
  • Access to a virtual and sometimes real-life social network I could have never created in the past
  • Multi-functioned pocket devices that replace watches, cameras, phones, GPS, rolodexes, credit cards, computers and tv screens
  • Immediate access to unimaginable amounts of data
But many of those benefits are offset by some of the losses resulting from advances:
  • More work output required which possibly completely overrides any worker-related gains
  • Workday extended outside standard/core work hours via expectations of availability through electronic means
  • Reduced real-life interactions socially
  • Reduced employment opportunities and opportunities for advancement (fewer jobs
  • Misuse of data and privacy and security issues
  • Confusion and difficulty discerning valid information from false
I’m realizing I couldn’t possibly inventory all of the positive and negative aspects technology has on our lives.  But if you were to do a quick estimate of the value-added or value-diminished in your life in the past decades, what would you estimate the net effect to be?  I know it’s impossible without a baseline of life without it, and so I’ve tried and described my experience in Part 1 and 2 of this blog entry.
Overall, I’d say my life is about as good as it would have been with technology as without it…and that includes that fact that I leveraged technological advances as part of my career decisions to make a living. What would you guesstimate?  10% increase in life-satisfaction?  5% decrease?  Could you say that you have gotten any portion of the benefits of increased productivity gains over the decades when you balance it against the additional demands?
In Part 3 next week, I’ll talk a little bit about who benefitted most from the productivity gains of automation.  Spoiler alert…it probably wasn’t you and me.

Current Knitting

I was able to finish the Knitted Cross Stitch Scarf in emeralds and fuchsias.


And I have to say, I’m quite pleased with the result.  Colors are rich and satisfying and the softness, warmth and drape are just perfect.

I also started, restarted and restarted a third time what I think will be an old shale wrap using Persimmon Tree yarn.


If it comes out how I’m hoping, it will be thick, soft, silky, warm and have a halo of mohair.  The colorway isn’t what I typically do, but I’m liking it so far anyway.

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