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Standard Automation

Planted 02020-10-07

I very much dislike situations where I ask myself the question, “what do I do?”

I imagine nobody likes this feeling very much.

I become frustrated when there is an expected process, but it’s not externalized. The process lives in the mind of those who perform them. Therefore the process has no standardization and lacks documentation.

And then, when there is an externalized process, standardization, and documentation—I become frustrated that it’s not automated. I mean, isn’t this what computing and automation is good for? Standardized processes?

I feel that, with the progression in technology and computing, I shouldn’t have to spend my time on tasks with clear standardized processes.

Those processes should be automated.

Standardized processes should be automated

This is largely how I feel about how educational subjects like math and accounting are taught.

If the goal is to memorize a standardized process instead of intuitively recreating how people came up with this stuff—which is the valuable stuff—then why shouldn’t we let computers do it?

But what if that all goes away?

The most common argument I hear is, “But what if that all goes away and you have to know it?”

And to that I ask, do you practice your flint and steel skills for when you don’t have a lighter on hand? I think we can safely say most people don’t. It would be hard to argue that it’s not something we should know. I mean, fire is our first and most simple technology as a species.

But let’s use a more recent example: Do you practice writing letters for when you can no longer use the device you’re reading this on? Or better yet, do you take your time to know everything you would need to know in order to recreate it if it disappeared?

No. You don’t.

Because specialization is how we got to today, and it’s how we move forward into the future.

When you automate as much of your life as possible, you can spend you effort on the tasks machines cannot do yet. Each habit that we hand over to the authority of technology frees up time and energy to pour into the next stage of growth.
— James Clear, Atomic Habits

Automation is Specialization

Specialization is how we prosper.

In his book, The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley defines prosperity as “the increase in the amount of goods or services you can earn with the same amount of work.”

That’s how we move forward. And automation is like maxing out our ability to create goods or services.

Good rules reward exchange and specialization; bad rules reward confiscation and politicking.

Too much time in school and work is spent on confiscation and politicking.

Where does it end?

This is a question I’m becoming more aware of as part of my internal thought process.

What doesn’t get standardized? Better yet, what should never be standardized? Education.

In Elena Shalvenas In Defence of the Humanities, she writes,

Because, once again, the real purpose of education is not to acquire skills. It is to develop the mind. Fill it with knowledge, yes—but also charge it with fire, like a torch, so that, long after we have left the student bench, the mind still gleams and glares and throws a challenge to the maddening mysteries of the world.

Education teaches us how to use our freedom. To not follow a manual, but instead be guided by an urge to do what is right.

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, published in 1987, instigated a battle over the American university’s soul by reminding us that education’s goal was not to become open to all ideas but to cultivate the search for the best ideas.

Bloom sought to fight the morally and intellectually crippling form of relativism infecting America’s educational system.

To be open to knowing, there are certain kinds of things one must know which most people don’t want to bother to learn and which appear boring and irrelevant. Even the life of reason is often unappealing; and useless knowledge, i.e., knowledge that is not obviously useful for a career, has no place in the student’s vision of the curriculum.

Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion.

In Conclusion

We all have a limited amount of time to live. And an even smaller amount of time to work. What we spend our time on should matter.

We should externalize processes, because that confrontation makes them better, and set standards once they’re good enough. And when they’re good enough, they should be automated until the next person comes along who wants to make it better.

We should spend our time on things that simply won’t happen unless we do them. And that’s something that only gets more specialized the further you get into your career.