Photo F. Muhammad. Source: Pixabay
A couple of decades ago, Scientific American published a study, where the researcher measured how much energy it took various types of animals to travel. In the results, the California Condor was the most efficient, soaring on wind currents and thermals. People were more efficient that dogs or rabbits or bees, but not as efficient as a horse or condor. But the most efficient animal in the study was a person riding a bicycle.
Over the years, some folks have quibbled with the results, noting that sea creatures that drift with the currents expend almost no effort, or that bicycles need roads, and roads take energy to build. But the point of putting bicycles (and helicopters and jet planes) into the study is that people are tool-makers. We use technology to improve our native abilities. This allows us to go faster or higher or deeper.
Caloric Cost of Travel vs. Body Mass. Source: National Academy of Sciences
This is what the latest computer technology is designed to do: enhance our mental performance by making it easier for us to do more with less. This view of technology should be empowering, not threatening. Whether a business is built around providing computing platforms like mainframes and PCs and smartphones, or whether it’s an ad-driven aggregation model that digitizes and organizes and funnels services to millions of online users, the technology itself is fundamentally no different than a bicycle that allows us to travel from place more efficiently.
There’s a story about a pre-colonial Nigerian tribe that had its first encounter with a white man riding a bike. They took the man captive and tied his bike to a tree so it wouldn’t wander off. The tribe misunderstood what the bike was, and what it represented.
Similarly, those who worry that our jobs will disappear because we have smartphones and AI and digital assistants misunderstand the nature of technology. Riding a bike takes different skills than walking. But we didn’t stop travelling after bikes and cars and planes were invented. We just travelled further.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”