When my wife was complaining that she no longer remembered any phone numbers, her phone took care of that, I remembered something Kurzweil said in his book, we were outsourcing our mind to our machines. Remembering phone numbers is certainly not the only function we’ve outsourced to our gadgets. I used to pride myself on my ability to do math in my head, now I find it easier to open a spreadsheet.
I don’t know if outsourcing our mind is good or bad. When I was in high school, I always wondered why my History teachers were so insistent that I remember dates. Even back then I knew how to look up when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. In my entire life, no one has ever come up to me demanding I tell them a historical date. They can look it up just as easy as I can. I know what they mean when people say those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it but 1492 is definitely not going to repeat. Of all the things my teachers could have taught me, the date was probably the least important. I outsourced my desire to remember historic dates long ago.
When companies practice outsourcing, it’s usually an acknowledgement that the other company can do it better, faster or cheaper. Once that outsourcing has occurred, the skill is abandoned within the company. It’s the supplier’s problem now.
This makes perfect sense. Outsourcing allows a company to concentrate on its core capabilities and usually results in a better product. Sounds good anyway. What the companies don’t realize is that outsourcing one aspect of their product often results in the loss of other capabilities.
If a company outsources their electronic assembly, how long do you think they will retain the ability to troubleshoot and repair the boards? The technicians will concentrate on other products. All the automated testers were probably sent off to the new manufacturer. The company is usually left with designers, accountants and lawyers. Without a good understanding of how the board works, they have no hope of doing product improvements. Ever wonder why the second generation of a product is worse than the first? My first guess is outsourcing.
When the inevitable day arrives and the new batch of boards randomly burst into flames, the outsourcing company no longer has the capability to troubleshoot the problem. They are left to say smart things to their customers like, “We’re looking into it” while screaming at the company they outsourced all their skills to.
Sounds like a sad day for the aforementioned company but why is this important to me? Let me start with an easy question. When you receive your change at a store, are you able to say it’s right? Yes, I know that’s what the register says but what’s keeping the register honest? Do you still retain enough capability to check it? Which is better, a dozen for $6.36 or 52 cents each?
When you get your bank statement, how do you verify your statement? How well do you trust your calculator? It always amazes me when I ask someone where the numbers came from and they respond that’s what the program said. They’ve as much as admitted that they’ve abandoned their ability to verify their job.
Before I come across as holier than thou, let me admit I’ve outsourced my ability to spell, do math, memorize numbers and handwriting. Although, come to think of it, my spelling ability never was very good. Spellcheck is a lifesaver.
With each of those skills I’ve outsourced, I feel other skills slipping away. This would be okay if I felt that like my example company, I was using my resources to concentrate on improving other skills. Maybe that’s true, I certainly hope it is but I don’t feel it.
What skills have you outsourced? How did that help you in today’s world? I really want to know because at the moment, when the machines rise up, it doesn’t look like it will be much of a fight. All they need to do is cut us off from the gadgets we rely on.
Strike a blow for humanity, do some math in your head today!
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