New trade-offs

Technology is all about trade-offs.

I find it more plausible when someone says a new technology has new trade-offs than when someone says a new technology is “better.” Rarely does one thing improve on another by all criteria, but often one thing is an improvement on another by the criteria you value most.

If you want to persuade me to adopt something new, you’ll gain credibility by being candid about its drawbacks. Explain by what criteria you think the new thing is better, by what criteria it is worse, and why the former should matter more to me in my circumstances.

 

3 thoughts on “New trade-offs

  1. We gave up a lot to get a computer on our desk. We gave up a lot to get the Internet connected to our computer. We gave up security for the myth of security. We can practice security-free computing, but we accept the myth of security instead, so we use our computer oblivious to its inability to be secured.

    It’s the hat trick.

  2. John:

    I agree, and this is a point I always tell people when they are writing up a research paper with a new method: It’s best if you can map out the range of applicability of the method: in what settings does it win, and in what settings does it lose? The conceptual idea is to have a phase diagram as they say in metallurgy, where you see which methods are best for different sets of problem conditions. Or, to put it more simply, even better than “We found that Method A works better than Method B” is “We found that Method A works better than Method B under the following conditions . . .”

    This also reminds me of some points I made awhile ago, in response to one of your earlier posts.

  3. Neil Postman made that tradeoff point re tech eloquently in the “end of education” in that it could make good teacher better but could not make bad teacher good

    “I do not go as far back as the introduction of the radio and the Victrola, but I am old enough to remember when 16-millimeter film was to be the sure cure, then closed-circuit television, then 8-millimeter film, then teacher-proof textbooks. Now computers.”

    Whole passage is here:

    As early as 1918, H. L. Mencken (although completely devoid of empathy) wrote, “… there is no sure-cure so idiotic that some superintendent of schools will not swallow it. The aim seems to be to reduce the whole teaching process to a sort of automatic reaction, to discover some master formula that will not only take the place of competence and resourcefulness in the teacher but that will also create an artificial receptivity in the child.”

    Mencken was not necessarily speaking of technological panaceas, but he may well have been. In the early 1920s, a teacher wrote the following poem:

    Mr. Edison says That the radio will supplant the teacher. Already one may learn languages by means of Victrola records. The moving picture will visualize What the radio fails to get across. Teachers will be relegated to the backwoods.
    With fire-horses,
    And long-haired women; Or, perhaps shown in museums. Education will become a matter Of pressing the button.
    Perhaps I can get a position at the switchboard.’

    I do not go as far back as the introduction of the radio and the Victrola, but I am old enough to remember when 16-millimeter film was to be the sure cure, then closed-circuit television, then 8-millimeter film, then teacher-proof textbooks. Now computers.

    I know a false g”d when I see one.

    Daniel Bilar

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