Work and tools

Digital Cubicles

Simon Terry

Sometimes things are worth reading because they pose good questions, rather than because of the answers which are offered. This may be one of those. It starts with a tweet:

At one level, that’s a simple – but important – restatement of the classic analysis of technology adoption from 1989, The Dynamo and the Computer, which showed that the transition from steam to electric power in factories a century and more ago had parallels with the adoption of technology-supported working practices today: the benefit comes not from the technological breakthrough, but from the subsequent – sometimes long subsequent – transformation it supports in the way work gets done.

The suggestions made in the post for adding back transformation are sensible, but not especially radical or distinctive. But it comes into its own again at the peroration:

None of this digital transformation has anything to do with how many video images your videoconferencing platform shows on screen in meetings. What matter is how organisations and individuals work, learn and adapt. The real value is not to work on digital tools. The value creation occurs when we work, learn and adapt in new ways.

Behavioural science Service design Technology

Contact Tracing in the Real World

Ross Anderson – Light Blue Touchpaper

This post is interesting at three levels. It is a meticulous case study of why contact tracing, and particularly pseudonymous contact tracing, and particularly app-based pseudonymous contact tracing is a hard problem (maybe even a wicked problem). It is an example of a more general phenomenon that describing a policy aspiration generally turns out to be much easier than describing, let alone implementing, a way of meeting that aspiration. And it illustrates the adage (distorted from an original by Mencken) that for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

And there is a fourth, which is perhaps most pertinent of all, which is that for problems of any complexity, technology cannot wish away human behaviour. Even if a contact tracing app were to work perfectly in technical terms (whatever that might mean), the individual and social behavioural responses may be far from what is desired. Or as Anderson puts it:

We cannot field an app that will cause more worried well people to phone 999.

That’s an insight relevant to many more problems than this one.