I was struck by the comments Nicholas Carr made in Is Google Making Us Stupid? about F.W. Taylor’s industrial philosophy. While I obviously benefit from the countless ‘cheap’ goods produced by an economy operating under this framework, in principle I do not agree that such an economy is a good thing. I agree with the grumbling Midvale employees that industrialization tends to create a demeaning and dehumanizing philosophy of work.
The idea that Google wants to apply Taylor’s concepts of “one best method” and “systematizing everything” to the search for knowledge is incredibly scary. Humans do not thrive on systematized tasks, no matter how efficient the results are. As an example, consider the fate of farming over the past century as it has been hijacked by the same industrial philosophy. Already in 1939, Steinbeck aptly critiqued this travesty in chapter 11 of The Grapes of Wrath
And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of the work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of the land and of working it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation. And in the tractor man there grows the contempt that comes only to a stranger who has little understanding and no relation.
Because of ‘easy and efficient’ thinking, we live in a land where it is very difficult to thrive as a farmer who truly wonders, understands, and relates to the land. We have a precarious food-system that survives on fossil fuel and is controlled by a few huge, bullying corporations.
If aims of Google (as characterized by Carr) – not to mention those of our mechanized, standardization-driven, fast-food style education system – come to fruition, we could easily replace three words in the preceding quote and end up with the following truth about the state of ‘learning’ in the 21st century
And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of the work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of the knowledge and of learning it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation. And in the student there grows the contempt that comes only to a stranger who has little understanding and no relation.
I, for one, don’t want to go there.