• Goto NETFUTURE main page
  •                                 NETFUTURE
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #62       Copyright 1997 Bridge Communications      December 16 1997
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    *** Quotes and Provocations
          The Global Economic Crunch: Is More Efficiency What We Need?
          I Scrambled Your Genes (But Don't Blame Me -- I Just Work Here)
          Computers in the Classroom:  Where's the Beef?
    *** Disfigured Hope: Arthur Zajonc on Technology's Promise
          Technology connects to what is highest in us
    *** About this newsletter

    *** Quotes and Provocations

    The Global Economic Crunch: Is More Efficiency What We Need?

    As world leaders dance their defensive rituals at the precipice of what could be, finally and truly, the economic "event of the century," we've suddenly begun hearing endless rants against Asian cronyism, opportunism, corruption, inefficient markets, and the evils of mercantilism. Reforms are being demanded.

    That's all well and good. But why aren't we also hearing about the unintelligent western capital that has been fueling all the stupidity? And how did our capital get so unintelligent in the first place?

    When, with the aid of our computer programs and well-honed calculations, we send massive streams of capital around the world in search of efficient, purely numerical results, we seek disaster. Sooner or later the capital will find -- or create -- the disaster. Money whose first aim is to multiply itself rather than to do something worthwhile in the world is money that no longer has the discriminating power to promote what is healthy and enduring. It is merely opportunism, however elegantly quantified.

    As an analogy, consider all the communication that occurs in our society -- communication about family plans, political issues, gardening, visits with friends, children's fantasies, meals, hobbies, work projects, and the gazillion other things we discuss. And then imagine that we systematically lost interest in what the communication was about, and paid ever more attention to the "efficiency" of the communication. Suppose, in other words, that how many connections we had, the number of words we could transmit per minute, and the signal-to-noise ratio became the primary concern of our communication. The whole point was to come up with the best numbers.

    Well, the prospects for healthy children, gardens, friendships, and work in such a society would not be very good. Eventually, in fact, the inevitable breakdowns in communication would jeopardize even our proud, numerical achievements.

    That's an accurate picture of what's gone on in business and economic theory. We've forgotten that efficiency as an end in itself is an utterly empty notion. It gains content only in conjunction with the