Human beings, version 2.0

Updated: 2011-06-26 07:37

(New York Times)

Twitter Facebook Myspace Yahoo! Linkedin Mixx

Human beings, version 2.0

Faster, better, smarter. No, not humans, but perhaps everything else. In a world of the always improving and never-ending upgrade, it's possible that human beings are getting left behind.

As workers get more expensive and equipment gets cheaper, the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people. Dan Mishek of Vista Technologies in Minnesota, which makes plastic products for equipment manufacturers, told The Times: "I want to have as few people touching our products as possible."

Vista spent $450,000 on new technology last year, reported The Times. During that time, it hired two new workers, whose combined annual salary and benefits are $160,000. And, "you don't have to train machines," Mr. Mishek said.

But training humans in basic skills may be waning. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the art of cursive handwriting is going the way of the quill and inkwell, The Times reported. Many school districts in America are spending far less time teaching the skill - and handwriting in general - than they were years ago, Steve Graham, a professor of education at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told The Times. Cursive, which can help students hone their fine motor skills, is no longer considered 21st-century enough. Richard S. Christen, a professor at the University of Portland in Oregon, told The Times: "I'm mourning the beauty, the aesthetics."

We may also mourn the loss of speaking up in class. Teachers are exploiting Twitter and other "back channels" like Google Moderator and TodaysMeet to entice students who rarely raise a hand. The real-time digital streams let students comment and ask questions without actually speaking.

"When we have class discussions, I don't really feel the need to speak up or anything," Justin Lansink, 17, a student in Iowa, told The Times. "When you type something down, it's a lot easier to say what I feel."

It may also be easier to get through class when you don't have to do the reading. There are too many books, so don't read them, says Franco Moretti, an Italian literary scholar and the founder of the Stanford Literary Lab in California. A close reading of books will never uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Instead, Mr. Moretti advocates "distant reading," which is understanding literature by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data, The Times Book Review writes. The Lit Lab's computer programs are fed novels that reduce characters into nodes and detect hidden aspects in plots by transforming them into networks. The novel is diagrammed and your "reading" is taken care of for you.

And with the right ball, so is your golf game. A special dimple pattern in the Polara golf ball helps players hit tee shots more accurately. The ball (beginning at $30 a dozen) can reduce slices and hooks by 75 percent or more. "It's for people who want to be embarrassed less, play faster and enjoy it more," Dave Felker of Polara told The Times. Never mind that part of the game is the challenge of actually hitting it straight.

With advanced technologies, perhaps those mental and physical challenges are getting fewer and far between. They may eventually create better golfers, students and job opportunities, but are we keeping up? Mr. Mishek of Vista doesn't think so. "It seems as if technology has evolved faster than people."

Anita Patll


Franchise heat

Foreign companies see huge opportunities for business

Stitched up for success
The king's speech
Tough sail

European Edition


Premier Wen's European Visit

Premier Wen visits Hungary, Britain and Germany June 24-28.

My China story

Foreign readers are invited to share your China stories.

Singing up a revolution

Welshman makes a good living with songs that recall the fervor of China's New Beginning.

Vice-President visits Italy
Sky is the limit
Quest for green growth