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Everything is hi-tech and no one is happy

Emily Fridenmaker, who is a pulmonary disease and critical care physician, writes on X:

Everything is so complex.

Logging into things is complex, placing orders is complex, figuring out who to page is complex, getting notes sent to other doctors is complex, insurance is complex, etc etc. But we just keep doing it.

At what point is all this just too much to ask?

There are a few more posts in that thread, and I encourage you to read all of it to get a sampling of why doctors feel burnt out. Whether you are in medicine, science, or education, your professional interactions have slowly — They Live-style — been replaced by a series of fragile Rube Goldberg machines that worked great in the minds of their technocratic developers, but break, stutter, stammer, and grind to a halt as soon as they encounter another one of their brethren. Which is all the time!

Too much of our professional lives has been spent playing around with a series of Rube Goldberg nesting dolls, Before reading I Am a Strange Loop I would have apologized for mixing metaphors, but this is how our brains think and it doesn’t have to make sense in the physical world to be useful, so apology rescinded. 2FA inside a 2FA, and if Apple is wondering why people are taking more and more time to replace their aging iPhones, I bet a good chunk of them dread doing it because they don’t even know how many different authenticating services, email clients, education portals, virtual machines — and all other needless detritus sold to management by professional salespeople — they would need to log back into.

Don’t get me wrong: Rube Goldberg machines are fun to play with — The Incredible Machine was one of my first gaming memories — and they can even be useful for individual workflows. But mandating that others use your string-and-pulley concoction that will break at first unexpected interaction is sadistic. Just this Monday we had yet another AV failure at a weekly lecture held at a high-tech newly-opened campus. I knew there would be trouble the moment I saw that the only way to interact with any AV equipment was via a touchscreen that had no physical buttons and no way to remove the power cord, which was welded to the screen on one end, and went into a closed cabinet on the other. Lo and behold the trouble came not two weeks later: we couldn’t get past the screensaver logo. We ended up asking students to look at their own screens while guest lecturers were speaking — and nowadays everyone carries at least two screens with them to school — which was too bad, because I was looking forward to using the whiteboard which is as far from Rube Goldberg as it gets.

Me from 20 years ago would have salivated for that much technology in my everyday life, but I’m hoping it was a function of the time, not of my age, and that kids-these-days know better. My own kids' experience with the great remote un-learning of 2020–2021 makes me hopeful that they will be more cautious about introducing technological complexity into their lives.

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