By Ney Reed
It never fails to amuse me how Singaporeans commonly tend to narrowly and naively understand technology as only constituting computers, computer systems, information systems and so on.
Because technology is supposed to bring about greater output, productivity and income, there is an endless endeavor to constantly implement a new computer system to the workplace, school, organization or home.
Often the outcomes of such implementation are exaggerated in order to justify the investment.
If one is to sincerely analyze and evaluate the outcomes, he/she will discover that many a times that the cost out-reaps the benefits.
Who really gains from “technological advancement”?
The IT folks or fellow technocrats will with the typical Mc-Microsoft attitude, consider that the implementation is a technological advancement as long as it runs even if it constantly crashes.
The users may more than often not find it useful or meaningful at all. The real gain goes not to the users but the commercial vendors implementing it.
Just like in the age of electricitization where the real gain went initially to those commercial vendors wiring up houses and buildings, in this local process of technological advancement, the real gain goes to commercial vendors getting paid to implement these projects.
This boo-boo simply arises from the naïve, narrow and inconsistent definition of technology. Indeed technology is that which is used to put together all the input factors such as labour, capital and land along with other technology to produce an output.
Technological advancement is that which makes the level of output greater given no change in other input factors or other forms of technology used.
What is technological advancement?
If today I can do my work with a paper and pen, that paper and pen is undeniably considered technology. Try telling that to a Singaporean who will cynically dismiss it as “primitive tools” or “old technology”. If today I can do my work better with a paper and pen than without them in the sense that I am able to work more productively or that my output is larger, then using that paper and pen is indeed technological advancement.
Therefore seriously we do not necessarily need fanciful and expensive computer systems for technological progress.
What we need is anything that can make us produce more output, increase our productivity and lower our economic costs of production.
Do computers help in productivity?
Many of our computer systems are not intelligently designed, and when we examine the levels of our productivity and output, they do not necessarily increase and sometimes even decrease.
One of the biggest misunderstandings is that a computer will most definitely increase a person’s output and productivity. Indeed mankind has never wasted as much time as they have simply waiting for their computers to start up.
Likewise there are many ways a computer can lower productivity and output and for each one of us when we aggregate all this cost of using the computer, we may find that it is not true that the computer is a technological advancement for each one of us.
What are the ways we can seek technological advancement beyond computer systems advancement in Singapore?
Organizational behavior, work processes and labor relations are areas we in Singapore can spend time and resources to improve such that increase in productivity and output will indeed be technological advancement.
Technology is relative
In the process we must never be cynical or naïve enough to condescendingly dismiss even a paper and pen as forms of technology. Technology is not an absolute phenomenon but instead a relative one.
Something that can be considered to be a technology or technological improvement in one area will not be in another area.
Hence it is not true that we need large amounts of money for newer technology or technological advancement. Cynical technocrats in Singapore fail to understand that the wheel and steam engine remains the more significant forms of technology or technological advancement for mankind than the computer.
Indeed we need a paradigm shift to think anew of ways to promote technological advancement in Singapore.