Ron Sievert is a Texas A&M associate professor of practice and director of the Certificate in Advanced International Affairs Program.
Simply put, our nation’s reliance on technology in all fields of endeavor has exceeded the reliability of the technology. I am not just talking about the ridiculous Iowa caucus debacle caused in part by the installation of an app. It is true that as I watched the “no results” Iowa reports Tuesday morning I remembered that as a youth we immediately (and with excitement) read the reports of the 1959 West Virginia and Wisconsin primaries won by John Kennedy. If we knew 60 years ago by early morning who won those primaries, why not now? Are we not supposed to be advanced as a society today? But, in addition to this primary travesty, on that same day no less than three separate times, I ran into a link or a connection on my computer that did not do what it was supposed to do. I won’t give up the specific culprits, but one related to a university report, the other student messaging and the third a state bar listing. Be honest with yourself — have you not run into the same problems?
I coached a youth softball league last spring. I was concerned when the league president said this year all information on practices, game schedules and rainouts would be posted on “an app because it will be much more efficient.” I could tell the younger coaches were softly chuckling as I expressed skepticism and asked exactly how this app would work. “It’s easy,” they responded. “Just do x then y, then z, and it will be right on your computer.” Of course, it did not work when I got home, so I called my daughter, who is very knowledgeable about computers. She worked for 90 minutes straight before she finally got part of it to work. I asked the team parents to provide me with their email addresses and phone numbers, and it was a good thing because all season league parents were complaining they were not getting messages on this “more efficient” app.
I am not a whiz with computer technology, but I am not a Luddite either. I accurately fly through the 30 computer steps it takes me to remote access and review applications to one of my school programs, then make recorded decisions and convey those decisions to some giant computer in the sky which keeps tabs on all this. (Yes, I tell my friends that if I received this in paper and had a rubber stamp, I could accomplish the tasks in five instead of 15 minutes.) For all my grumbling, I understand entirely how computers have produced wonders and will continue to enhance society in the future. But, as a national security professor, I worry about or dependence when I know North Korea, Iran and Russia spend hours looking for ways to bring various U.S. systems down in the blink of an eye. How will we emotionally and practically respond if that happens? At the same time, the glitches I have cited above are just examples of the essential point of our dependence on technology today has exceeded its reliability. We need to slow down and let our hard-working IT folks catch up with and master the nuances and intricacies of the systems they designed and make them new-user friendly before our government, university and corporate managers once again demand that we must only utilize the latest theoretically “more efficient” computer system.