Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Luddite Columnist Can't See the Great Advantages of Newest Technologies

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Luddite Columnist Can't See the Great Advantages of Newest Technologies

Article excerpt

Computers and the other sophisticated technology that increasingly surround us are creating better workplaces and a smarter society, we hear all the time.

Call me a Luddite, but I'm dubious.

These machines are impressive and their capabilities awesome, but a few points have always nagged.

If they're such a boon at work, why do studies pop up showing, for instance, that workers in computerized offices are no more productive than other office workers?

If they're so indispensable to education, how come in teaching journalism courses around here I encounter college students baffled by the task of writing a sentence? I don't recall this being a big problem among high school students in the b.c. (before computers) era.

Ever glimpse at what happens nowadays when a young cashier experiences an electronic breakdown and has to actually add or subtract?

Co-workers tell me to look at the investigative world computers open up for reporters. Well, have we really topped what Woodward and Bernstein did with guile and index cards?

Anyway, these decidedly out-of-sync views were reinforced by a couple of documents that arrived in the mail this week: one from management, one from labor.

The American Management Association's latest study on basic skills "reveals that more than one-third of U.S. job applicants in 1993 lacked necessary reading, writing and math skills for employment," wrote AMA research director Eric Rolfe Greenberg.

The AMA defines basic skills rather modestly as "functional workplace literacy, i.e. the ability to read instructions, write reports, and/or do arithmetic at a level adequate to perform common workplace tasks."

So videos and computers in classrooms aren't creating brighter kids and a smarter civilization? "By no means," Greenberg said Thursday from New York. "Don't get me started."

The United States, he said, may be heading toward "the dawn of the post-literate age."

The other report was troubling in an ethical way. "Computers Intruding on Privacy in Workplace: U.S. workers are among the most closely monitored," is the title of the study from the International Labor Organization in Geneva.

"Workers in industrialized societies are steadily losing privacy as technological advances allow employers to monitor nearly every facet of time on the job," the ILO warned. …

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