Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I just did my part to help Big Brother.

In today's vernacular, Luddite has come to mean a person who doesn't like technology. Or perhaps better spoken, a person who avoids it. Funny, that. Even the dictionary has come to present historical fact that way, stating the "Luddites" were groups of people who rioted because they believed automated machinery would deprive them of work.

But Luddites were more than that. They were individuals who saw the end of a way of life, but more importantly, they saw the way it was going to end.

Today I filled in an online Chapters bookstore psychotic, errr, psychiatric profile. It is collected by Gallup, a third-party, for privacy reasons. At the end of many circular, one-line, linear questions, a page popped up telling me that my information had been collected properly, and someone would be in touch if I fit the profile: the Chapters/Indigo/Smith/Cole's profile of a good employee. (And all this for slightly over minimum wage. That speaks volumes in itself.) While such questions do build a profile, they also ignore the fact that life is infinitely more complex than a psychiatric profile alone can convey. Take one of the early questions. (And I have to paraphrase because I didn't think to save it at the time.)

You are watching a five year old hammering. He hits his finger and starts crying. Do you:
A. Try to get him to laugh to take his mind off the pain.
B. Teach him how to hammer properly.
C. Check his finger to see if it's badly hurt.
D. Comfort him.

All valid choices. I chose B. At the end of the day, that's ultimately what I would hope to do in that situation. But first I would comfort him while taking a look at his finger. Then I would tell him a funny story about my own hammerings to get him to laugh. And finally, I would teach him how to hammer properly.

"But," you say, "They know this already. They're just checking to see what you consider most important. It's allows them to see further into your personality."

Yes, it does, but what really? I just laid out for you what any responsible, experienced person would do in that situation. How do you know that I'm responsible and experienced? Will my profile tell you that? Yeah, and I've got an online dating site waiting to hook you up. You can build a profile and take an educated guess. But it's still an online profile without a face, without the human spirit. The essence of a person - and therefore their teachability, their complexity - cannot be understood or grasped from a summary of their surface traits.

And since we're talking about me, I'll outline a specific example. As you know, communication is primarily through body language. While an online profile is fully capable of telling you what my tendencies are, it is unable to capture body language. The nervous tics we've developed in life, the impact of a facial expression, your opening smile. It's my smile that most people comment on first, but perhaps not ironically, I tend to be a cynic. Not always happy-go-lucky. Not the constant life of the party. I take a rather dim view of human nature. Yet, I still smile. And often enough that I get consistent comments on it.

It's funny. Even while I write this, I'm struggling inside. One half of me is arguing for the above, and the other side is saying, "But logically, J, they're just using this as a tool to weed out the deadbeats. What's so wrong about that? And besides, these personality profiles are remarkably accurate." And I have to answer myself, "Exactly." What is so wrong about this? Why should it upset me at all? And there you see it. A culture being programmed by another culture. We are so attuned to our progress that we have created a self-perpetuating giant. Self-perpetuating, because 99% of us just "get on with the program". Not only that, but we usually ignore or ridicule those who don't.

And now we return to the Luddites. The Weaver's Guild believed that factories didn't consider people anymore. The focus was no longer about what a human could accomplish, but what a human could enable a machine to accomplish. And as that idea progressed, they could see that a human would become less and less creative, more and more a droid. Economics aside, that was the heart and soul of their "riots". Which, by the way, were crushed.

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