“Fear of the latest technology is often assumed without proof of harm. While it’s true that industrial robots have killed several people working around them, the fault in most cases was the human’s. And while robots were building robots as early as the 1980s, HAL isn’t wearing the pants just yet.” —Skip Eisiminger
Skip the B.S.
By Skip Eisiminger
“Fearsome chess masters fear the fearlessness of Deep Fritz.”—The Wordspinner
“Roll over Beethoven, dig these rhythm and blues.”—Chuck Berry
CLEMSON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—October 2016—Several bad calls in the 2010 World Cup sent tremors through the soccer world. Sepp Blatter, the Luddite president of FIFA, soccer’s governing agency, at first claimed the blown calls were reflections of the game’s human element, and he feared relinquishing control to cameras. Metaphorically, Blatter is averse to placing rubber tires on a horse but, in truth, all that most fans want is to take the blinders off that nag before he goes to the glue factory. Before the Cup was emptied, however, Blatter said he would reconsider instant replays. We can only hope and blow loudly on our vuvuzelas.
Fear of the latest technology is often assumed without proof of harm. While it’s true that industrial robots have killed several people working around them, the fault in most cases was the human’s. And while robots were building robots as early as the 1980s, HAL isn’t wearing the pants just yet. For one thing, radical change is expensive. I recall that one reason I pushed my father’s hand mower for so many summers was the cost of a power mower. Yet every twig the size of a straw would bring the reeling blades of that misbegotten antique to a halt.
It’s true, as the Italian proverb states, “Those born round are unlikely to die square,” but I’m not talking about paradigm shifts.
To return to soccer for a moment, I’m only advocating using the replays from cameras already in place in the major stadiums of the world. For those worried about the proverbial flow of “the beautiful game,” I’d grant each coach three appeals, but if an appeal were upheld, it would not be counted against a team’s total. The time taken to review the calls could be included in the stoppage time already added to each game. In most cases, the delays would total less than two minutes.
In addition to fear and costs, a vested stake is another reason people are reluctant to change. In Blatter’s case, yielding to technology would be a tiny abdication of his control. A personal stake in most anything leads to a hardening of the arterial ways as illustrated by the “South-Indian Monkey Trap.”
To catch a monkey, Robert Pirsig says, simply drill three holes in a coconut: two for the chain, which is run through the nut and then locked around a tree, and a third hole for the monkey. This hole should be just big enough for the monkey’s open paw to enter but not exit. The monkey’s escape is thwarted because he usually has made a fist that cannot be withdrawn without releasing the fruit. Monkey values are so rigid that many allow themselves to be captured rather than surrender food.
Like the monkey, Blatter has his fist in a very plump coconut, and he’s reluctant to release that to which he feels he’s entitled.
A joke circa 2005 posits an elderly man walking into Office Depot and asking the adolescent clerk for a Smith-Corona replacement ribbon.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” says the youth after reflecting for a moment. “We don’t handle ribbons, guns, or beer.” I don’t suppose one can blame the clerk any more than you could have blamed me if someone pushing a Model T had come to the Amoco station I worked at in the 1960s and asked for a hand crank. Twenty years later, I was not the first to welcome computers to the department where I was employed, but I wasn’t the last either.
One of my colleagues has never taken the computer the university gave him out of the box. I’m not sure if he drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon or packs a Smith & Wesson, but I know he still writes on a typewriter using ribbons his daughter purchases on eBay.
Opponents of reform often invoke the deity, saying change would desecrate the holy order. Nineteenth-century writers from Thoreau to Baudelaire thought the steam engine was “the negation of God.” Yet thousands today pine for a return of the glory days “when steam was king.” They charter restored coal-fired locomotives to pull a few cars along a deserted piece of track before pushing the party home. Few, however, are willing to speak of the soot that the passengers breathe and wipe from their eyes.
Of course, there’s a place for these behemoths: it’s called the Smithsonian, “the nation’s attic.” And judging from the massive “repentagon” a few miles from where I write, God has not been harmed by the railroads. In fact, trains pass within a hundred yards of the place several times a day.
Like heartsick proponents of antique railroads, the Amish are famous for their resistance to technological change, though a hundred years ago they did compromise by allowing seamstresses to use steel pins and needles instead of bone. Though you won’t find any Amish overalls equipped with zippers, they have recently permitted the use of cell phones in an emergency.
Nothing makes my point better than an Amish farmer using a cell phone to call 911. This usage may be revolutionary in a culture that still plows with horses, but it’s simply a more efficient way to handle complex events as they unfold. The latest technology, however, does not have all the answers. After buying my latest computer, I had to learn how to leave the first page of an essay unnumbered when writing in Microsoft WORD. With MS Office 2003, it took four clicks; with MS Office 2010, it takes ten. Both procedures accomplish the same thing, but the new way takes almost three times as long. While there are advantages overall to the newer system, I just wish there were some way to eliminate the “pain” of being on the cutting edge. But when I think I’ll skip the latest innovation, I usually find myself becoming irrelevant.
Finally, back to soccer, where I began this rambling screed: FIFA is averse to adding instant replays because, as one traditionalist stated, “Pelé did not benefit from that technology.” That rationale is what G.K. Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead” or, in Pelé’s case, “the democracy of the retired.” Pastured off as I am, I respect the deceased as much as anyone, but should they have a veto over something they never witnessed?
And while we’re making changes, let’s lower the pitching mound, widen the goal mouth, and raise the basket.
To order copies of Skip Eisiminger’s Letters to the Grandchildren (Clemson University Digital Press), click on the book cover below or contact: Center for Electronic and Digital Publishing, Strode Tower, Box 340522, Clemson SC 29634-0522.