Sunday, November 11, 2007

Technological Losses Add Up: Curmudgeon at Full Tilt (corrected)

That did it. Having experienced another technological loss tonight at the King's Soopers, I must go into a full-tilt, curmudgeonly, ranting rampage. There are so many technological losses; they are so annoying; they are so unnecessary; and no one else seems to care. Or perhaps people care, but are powerless to stop the mindless technological juggernaut.

I did some late-night shopping at King Soopers, thinking it would be an opportune time, since no one else would be there. I stupidly assumed a checker would be there, though. I was wrong. The wonderful automated checkout machines were the only thing open. I had a full cart and the robot wasn't up for it. I drank an organic fruit drink during shopping. I scanned it and threw out the bottle. The robot didn't like that. "Please put the item in the bag," it insisted. Right, you mindless moron. I asked the attendant, but he was utterly clueless as to how to face this emergency. So, I took the empty bottle out and put in the bag. I guess that registered or the assistant ended up doing something. I won't bore you with more problems that ensued, but here is the point. Numerous new technologies rob us of functions better performed by their predecessors (or by mere humans). A regular checker (even the dimmest ones) can understand the idea of an empty bottle. Robots cannot. Consider other losses:

1. Cassettes are superior to CDs for listening to lectures. You simply stop them when you are done and they remain where they were--a determinate spot on the tape. Not so for CDs, unless you keep them in the player. Moreover, most CDs do not have individual tracks for lectures. Thus, you cannot stop where you are to continue.

2. Old VCR machines are simpler than DVDs. Moreover--like the cassette--you can simply stop the video where you are, take it out, and put it back in at exactly the same place later. Not so DVDs.

3. My first printer for my first computer (A Kay Pro, a dinosaur if there was one--and still in my basement) was essentially a typewriter, which typed about 80 words a minute. The quality of the type was impeccable. Yes, it was slower and had only one kind of type. But so what?

4. Many automobile cassette players do not have the old fashioned fast forward and reverse. No, too simple for the Jetsons (yes, I watched cartoons as a benighted youth way back in the last century). We are now graced with an automated function--these things are killing us--that finds the next song or the previous one. This is terrific, except when you want to fast forward or rewind a lecture tape. Then, it does no good at all; and you must find an older, primitive cassette player to actually do the job.

5. Lapel mics work just fine, thank you. But now I sometimes--not too much yet, thank goodness--have to don a bizarre, tormenting device that hooks around your ear and juts out in front of your face (sometimes called a "Madonna mic"). I don't want to wear anything having anything remotely to do with Madonna. And what is the point? I already have my hands free with a lapel mic. Nor do I want to look like a football coach or a jet pilot.

6. Older cars--such as our 1976 Gremlin--had no computers. Thus, they were simpler and easier to fix. Not so for our 1994 Dodge Intrepid, which we ended up giving away in 2003, because its computer problems stumped the dealer and a "specialist." We sold the Gremlin for $300 in 2003.

7. I won't even comment on PowerPoint, since I am able to avoid it entirely when I teach (unless a church demands that my outline be "PowerPointed"--what an ugly word and ugly reality). See the on-line essay, "PowerPoint is evil."

8. Before automated voice messages, one could talk to a human and get information. Now, with endless menu options (which have all "recently changed," so you have sit through an exciting run-down of how the numbers relate to different categories of requests) you are doing well to get any information at all quickly. And consider the so-called "music" you have to listen to while you wait! It is usually right up there with water boarding.

9. Land phone lines sound much better than cell phone connection and land phones sound better than cordless phones.

One can go on. But tell me your stories. Go ahead: rage at the machine.


Anonymous said...

Excellent rant! :)

While I pondered 1-8 and agree, it is the automated check-out which still irks me the most.
There are two things that I buy on a fairly regular basis that its microchip governed "brain" cannot handle: 8 packs of paper towels (too light to register in the bagging area) and dog food (too big to fit in said area). Without fail, each time I buy one of these (or both, which is always a complete joy), the machine chants repeatedly in its automated "voice" to "please place item in the bag". I usually mutter something profound like "its on top of the bags, idiot" (as it won't fit inside the bag). When check-out bot gets REALLY confused, it concedes with "please see attendant".

The ongoing bot battle is incredibly irritating, as I wonder why the attendant couldn't just have gone and opened a human checkout lane, as I always need him or her anyway to fix the glitching robot.

Anonymous said...

they have trouble weighing fresh cilantro too.

But anyway, cell phones: now there's no excuse you can give for not answering the phone...its always with you. - which is why I never carry mind with me.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I conveniently "forget" my cell all the time.

Tom said...

Late most non-techno folks in their 40s, I have my share of these same frustrations. But I've noticed something about the people I know (and know of) who are vehemently anti-technology (that is, those who think there is something normatively wrong with it): they seem to be just fine with the technology that was in place when they were growing up; it is the technological advances (or less contentiously, 'changes') that take place after they become adults that they find "de-humanizing" in or in some other way morally or spiritually objectionable. This makes me suspicious of anti-technological arguments. If their anti-technological positions were based simply on reason, you wouldn't expect them regularly to be correlated with just those technologies that have been developed in the years after the onset of adulthood.

Do you think this is a fair critique, Doug? I'd honestly like to hear your thoughts on this since I know you do not form your views or express your opinions likely.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I have no "loathing" of blue collar workers, for goodness sake! Some are not very adept, just as some professors are not very adept. I have befriended several of them.

Righteousness first is now banned from this blog. He gives too many off the wall, bizarre, and unwarranted comments.

Lonnalee Anderson said...

Doug, I cannot tell you how refreshing this post is! Just this week my wife and I have traveled back to a landline to avoid the bombardment of calls. I remember hearing a mentor once tell me that his phone was for his convenience, not others. This is wise. So, we are regaining control of this area. Most people get angry when they can’t reach you immediately, but the phone needs to be controlled. Further more, the mirage of technology has crippled us in many ways. Jonathan Edwards had NONE of these modern perks and was much more productive. I personally think it was precisely because he DID NOT have these perks that he was so productive. I have been deceived into thinking that I would save time, but I haven’t, indeed it was a techno-mirage.

So, here are my 6 techno-resolutions:

1. Away with the cell phone, with the exception of emergencies. I am changing my number and giving people my new landline. That way, all my calls are localized to the office and my home. My phone is for my convenience, not yours. However, as a pastor, I want to make myself available to the congregation. I want to be a faithful under-shepherd, so in light of them, there will be a way for them to get a hold of me, either through our secretary, or through our home line, but not the cell phone, as a general rule.
2. I will check email at set times, and disable the “check for email every minute option.” Email, which is convenient and quick, will be relegated to morning, noon, and late afternoon. That way, I am not responding to the never-ending tide of emails and wasting precious time.
3. I will check web-logs (only good ones) twice a day. This is good for information, news, and edification, but it needs to be controlled.
4. I will not get an iphone. This is the hardest for me. I love Apple. I own a Mac. They look really cool. They are really cool. BUT, I chose not to be THAT connected. I want to enjoy a meal with my wife and not hear, “beep.”
5. I will not get Internet at home. It may be nice, but knowing myself, I will waste more time than I save. I have the Internet at the church (my place of work), and can use it there. I don’t need it at home.
6. I WILL NEVER have cable in our home. I cannot think of a more pathetic waste of time. If it’s news I want, I will read the paper, or go to some place that has WiFi and check the news. That way, I have control over what I am receiving, not the talking heads.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…we’ll see…

~Dave Anderson

Luke said...

I am a bit of a pariah for my age group (23) as I just recently purchased my first cell phone. We do not have a land line, and I need to be able to talk to my wife during the day. I've come to abhor the sound of it though, and leave it on silent most of the time. Like others have said, I do not want to be at other people's beck and call all the time.

I hate the automated checkout too. Even though they are less efficient, I think people like them because they feel like they are doing something, even if it is slower. When you have an actual person help you, you don't really have anything do do but pay. People don't like to be still, which is why they use the automated checkouts. I still hate the stupid things, and avoid them at all costs.

D. A. Armstrong said...

There are some solutions for those problems.

First off, for me I'd rather use a self-checkout system. I cashiered for sometime at a large retail store. I am faster than most cashiers and bag similar items together, which is unheard of at most places these days.

In the list provided you have given a set of situations in which the older technology is superior to the newer technology. However, there are a set of situations in which the newer technology is superior to the older technology. Of course what this tells me is that perhaps newer technology is only superior in certain aspects.

A CD player could be programed from the manufacturer to keep track of where you are at on any given cd. However, so few people would actually use that option because they simply listen to music. The same could be done with DVD players as well.

The problem occurs with technology when we use it for it's own sake. Powerpoint can be use successfully for somethings, but not others. There is a book out there on how to use powerpoint successfully. I skimmed through it once. The problem with powerpoint is that it is so over used for the wrong things.

One case that I think really brings out the best of powerpoint is Biblical Archaeology. I don't remember if you use external evidence for the Historical Reliability of the Bible or not in your Christian Apologetics class, but in my own case I use the pictures Cyrus Cylinder, the Gallio Inscription, etc to provide a context of what that item is. All information concerning how the item relates to the Bible is given orally.

Jeff Burton said...

I would respect you a lot more, Dr. Groothuis, if you would publish your blog using only technology available circa 1970.

Paul D. Adams said...

What irks me is having to key in (and often re-key in) some nonsensical string of letters with the most awkward of keystrokes in the WORD VERIFICATION field before responding on this blog to the foibles of technology!

Ironies abound!!


Kyle said...

Obviously there is a lot of new technology that you do not like (flashy watches, baseball game TV effects, movies, CD players, DVD players [By the way, my computer remembers where I left off on all DVDs], auto check out lines, new printers, Powerpoint, car computer systems, automated voice systems, cell phones, etc.), but I can't believe that you despise all new technology; after all, you do have a blog. Are there any new technologies that you actually like? I would feel a lot better knowing you thought some technology is an improvement (note: to count, it must be something you didn't have as a kid).

David James said...

Klye wrote,

"Are there any new technologies that you actually like?"

I am fairly confident Dr. Groothuis would consider the TV-B-Gone remote control a step in the right direction.

Kyl Schalk said...

Dr. Groothuis,

I hope I was able to clearly show why a lot of righteousness first’s comments were simply false.

Dawg Doc said...

AS a 40-ish instructor in Political Science I embrace the technology and technological change. Yeah, sometimes the older stuff was better and I see your point. But hey, Marx promised us all this labor saving stuff would come, right! LOL.



David Strunk said...

As a communication major in my undergrad (University of Tennessee), we were taught to never use powerpoint in public speeches if it contained any words at all. Only pictures make powerpoint worthwhile. Meanwhile, if words exist, many studies show that people instantly watch the screen and take eyes off the speaker. It instantly becomes mediated communication when unmediated comm. exists. This confirms our declarations of a visually stimulant culture gone awry.

Furthermore, we did a lot of study of the effects of television on public speaking. Soundbites, of course, rule the day. Logical arguments become boring sadly. Television news, as has been said many times in this forum, is bogus. The spoken word, thus, gets devalued.

None of these are new revelations, especially to Groothuis- but I thought it was at least interesting that I was exposed to this in a secular educational environment. I think Christian leaders can improve the argument with certain theological underpinnings. Thanks Dr. Groothuis for giving us a voice of truth.

David said...


I'm 31 years-old and share most of Doug's frustrations with technology. The internet, for instance, started becoming ubiquitous when I was in college. So I've known it for most of my adult life. And while I recognize many benefits to its existence, I also have some concerns as well, akin to Doug's thoughts.

I think these criticisms are probably better served when they're approach with a balanced perspective. I don't think technology is inherently evil, and I'm sure Doug wouldn't think so either.

As Neil Postman has suggested, we need to recognize that most technological inventions come with a benefit, but there is also a cost involved. Even the printing press resulted in some negative consequences, for all its glories!

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Television was going strong when I was born and I grew with it.

As you know, I loathe it.

There is your counterexample.

Mike Austin said...

As a university professor, I especially despise texting. First, even after my small rant against doing so in class, I still see students texting their friends. This is an example of the larger problem, that technology often serves to distract us from the present surroundings. Second, I have students write papers and send me emails using the language of texting (e.g. "u" rather than "you"). When this occurs, my own inner curmudgeon begins to emerge!

Tom said...


Fair enough, although I didn't intend to be making a universal generalization.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


My students do things on electronic devises in my classes (college and seminary) as well, despite my pleas, threats, etc. How rude and stupid. You can do that any time; I'm lecturing right now and won't be when class is over!

Daniel said...


I want to be you.


Paul D. Adams said...

I'm unconvinced that PowerPoint is evil and not merely because I use it in most every teaching opportunity in my Philosophy and Religion classes. The logic alone is insufficient to convince me that I should not use PowerPoint or that when I do it is an inferior pedagogical tool. Not only does this idea smack of snobbery and triumphalism to sneer at the notion of visual aides, it is logically inconsistent. Visual aides can truly assist students' understanding to "see" what they hear, just as "seeing" these words on my post aides in readers' understanding. If PowerPoint is evil, then so too is this entire Curmudgeon blog, since it requires/logically entails "seeing" the words. What would "seeing" the Words of the Bible suggest?

Of course, one can overuse anything to the detriment of learning, the written, "visual" words of this blog as well or the spoken words of a lecture!

David Strunk said...

Hey Paul,

Good thoughts from a professor- I'd just encourage you to check out the major periodicals and research on powerpoint as a pedagogical tool. It is often discovered as an inferior visual aid. One can look in something as basic and ordinary as Stephen Lucas' Art of Public Speaking textbook and read about basic principles of visual aids. For instance, don't issue a handout during class. Do it after class. This often results in someone reading and not listening to the speaker. I find the same truth at work in powerpoint to a greater degree. But, if you are to use powerpoint, the research suggests you incorporate blank slides between each content slide so as not to keep your visual distraction in front of someone. The content slide should only be used for the brief time it is actually a visual aid.
The often curious thing I found about professors at the college level is that they actually have very little formal training in instruction (how to teach). They are experts in their subject, to be sure, but not always excellent at communicating. Just because someone teaches, does not mean they have become good teachers. I am not trying to insinuate that you aren't (I love and respect many teachers who weren't great communicators), but merely mention based upon my observations that instruction could often improve with a little communication education.

Paul D. Adams said...

Thanks for the feedback. I'm aware of some of the research re: the use of PP in classes and understand it has limitations. As for my style, I regularly post a slide with some notes (never hand out notes in advance), then blank the screen to invite student feedback/participation as we unpack the implications of, say, Kant's noumena/phenomena. The attention is turned, not only to me for further explanation, but students often engage one another as well.

Craig Fletcher said...

Some of your examples of technology being detrimental are right on point, but some depend on perspective. It depends on what your life is like.

For example, cell phones: I MUST be available for my job by cell phone 24/7 because I support massive, complex computer systems that cannot be down. So, should an urgent outage occur, I must be contacted and must get to work on the issue, or if I am not able to connect in I need to be able to start calling other people from wherever I am to get them working on the issue. Also, my wife works "on the road" a lot of the time (as do I) and our cell phones keep us connected when we need to talk during our travels.

Another thing: PowerPoint. Usually it is very obnoxious and detracts from human beings respecting each other's presence and focus. However, I was in a 90 minute meeting today that had SEVENTY PowerPoint slides, but they were important because they contained network architecture diagrams that could not otherwise be explained just with words. Sometimes you do need to "see it" to understand it in my business.

Just another perspective. Technology addiction is a plague, I don't disagree, but it does have it's place when tempered. Like this blog, for example!

Tom said...

As some of the recent posts suggest, before deciding whether a piece of technology (or anything else, for that matter) is a good thing, one should not just list the ways it can be abused and the negative consequences it might have. One must also look at the positives. Only then can one really see what its net utility is. Focussing solely on the negative features of something is a good way to reject, well, pretty much everything.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


No you don't!

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I always consider benefits and detriments of technologies (or I should). But because most Americans have (a) no sense of history (b) no philosophy of technology, they never consider the detriments. When I do so, I get labeled a "Luddite," etc. Yet, I've had a web page for ten years, a blog, and so on. I have a cell, but don't give out the number and only use it for my wife and under special situations. Just today, I guy nearly drove through a flashing yellow light that signals a stop to let cylists (me) by. I had to stare him down and yelled at him pointing at the light. He was on the cell, and just dismissively nodded at me. Hey, idiot: I exist, I have the right of way. Repent.

David Strunk said...


Thanks for your comments. It seems like you'd be good to have in class. Since powerpoint has become so pervasive, it is rarely used well but it can be done well as you demonstrate. Thus, I agree that it is not inherently evil. I think our interchange on powerpoint might prove useful for other mediums as well. Is there a book out there that theologically reflects on each major medium? If there's not, someone should write it. I know Dr. Groothuis has written on the internet.........

Paul D. Adams said...

Thanks, Dave. I'm unaware of any books that are focused as you ask, but 'tis a grand idea for one, eh?

To Daniel:
I echo Doug's reponse...NO YOU DON'T.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Read Neil Postman, Technopoly.

I'm sure Paul uses PowerPoint more wisely than anyone!


Kyle said...

You said:
I always consider benefits and detriments of technologies (or I should). But because most Americans have (a) no sense of history (b) no philosophy of technology, they never consider the detriments. When I do so, I get labeled a "Luddite," etc. Yet, I've had a web page for ten years, a blog, and so on.

You don't like people making a straw man of your position thinking of you as a "Luddite," but I can't really blame people for thinking so. If they see a straw man of your position, it is because you are presenting a straw man of your position on this blog. I have read the blog for a little while and cannot recall a single technology that you liked and very few comments that mentions any benefit of a new technology, though the fact that you use some new things means you must have found some benefit in them. But if I am to see that you aren't a Luddite, I must read between the lines or get 20 comments down and accept your word that you do "consider benefits and detriments of technologies." Don't blame people for not noticing what you've hidden from them.

Also I am bothered by your by your disdain for the average American that you run across. I think there are few Americans that aren't bothered by some new technology, Even if they don't have a formal philosophy of technology, they are bothered by some of the changes. But you seem to think that the average American would not even comprehend how the new trends could be annoying ("I said to the salesperson, 'I'm already overstimulated by American culture. I don't need any more.' This comment was probably lost on her, but maybe not on you, faithful reader."). Don't assume everyone is stupid, and if they are stupid, don't intentionally say something beyond their comprehension so that you can feel smug about it. If that wasn't your intention, it certainly came across that way in your post.

I really like the sermons I've heard you give and still want to get your books on Pascal and Jesus, but I am often disappointed in how you communicate on your blog.

Anonymous said...

You really shouldn't be so mean-spirited. You are not a clever writer, nor are you accomplished academic. Last I checked, U. Oregon is bottom of the barrel and your publications are shoddy to say the least. You have scarely more intellectual merit than B. Hinn, but at least he's kind.

You parade your "mail-order" PhD while spinning your spittle. Even other faculty members at your school think that you're nuts. (Would you care for me to provide you with quotes?)

Please stop acting like an arrogant jerk.

Daniel said...

Doug and Paul,

Given the subject of this post... too late! :)

David Strunk said...

Whoa "i love Jesus,"

It is imperative that you not laden your post with accusations without reasons. I could take your post point by point but I suspect I should not even respond to it (even now) and thus give it merit.

It must be established, first, that intellectual merit requires reasoned argument and not ad hominem fallacies. It seems quite suspicious that you attack Dr. Groothuis as not an academic or intellectual, yet you cannot abide by logic or reasoning.

I also suspect that Dr. Groothuis isn't bothered by your post, but I am. Lastly, I also suspect that you don't really love Jesus and that you masquerade as such on this post so that you can stand behind that veil. If I am wrong, then your post lacks reason and compassion, both virtues of which Christ extols.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I challenge "i love Jesus" to identify himself, given the vitriol he/she/it is dispensing.

Moreover, I am proud of my University of Oregon "mail order degree." It only cost me $19.95, plus shippping and handling. What a deal.

Anonymous said...

Dear "I love Jesus,"
One need not attend a top 5 philosophy program to become a first-rate philosopher, just like those in elite programs sometimes end up being second-rate thinkers. One of the leading epistemologists in the world today, Paul Moser, received his PhD from Vanderbilt--a good school, but certainly not elite in philosophy. It's evident to those who have studied with Dr G that his U of Oregon education has equipped him quite well. And the guy also happens to be a superb teacher. Next time, before ignorantly sounding off and appointing yourself supreme arbiter of true intellectuals, you may want to try engaging Dr G's actual arguments; otherwise, you're wasting everyone's time.

Kyl Schalk said...

J.P. Moreland wrote, “This [Truth Decay] is the best, most accessible treatment of postmodernism available.” Although I have not read that book, it looks like your book is very respected by a top intellectual, Dr. Groothuis. However, a person above would like us to believe that your publications are shoddy. The mentioned person acts like one can’t be academically credible, intelligent, respected, influential, etc., unless he or she has won the Nobel Prize in everything! Is that person going to stop? The mentioned person is like a nonsense making machine. The above quote is from the book Kingdom Triangle by J.P. Moreland. Although I’m Catholic, I’m happy to support various aspects of your apologetics, etc.

Paul D. Adams said...

To "i love jesus"

"....the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

...With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be."

"Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?"


D. A. Armstrong said...

To criticize based upon a person credential's is not always a valid criticism. Benjamin Franklin finished his formal education at age 10. Yet he founded the American Philosophical Society.

Kyl Schalk said...

(continued from my post above)
If a person implies that Dr. Groothuis isn’t an enormously brilliant intellectual, he or she is displaying enormous confusion. One can appreciate many things a person has done even if one disagrees with some of his or her views.

jim_l said...

A little late to the party, but here goes. First, the original post is entertaining. Well done.
Now for the really funny part - Why is it whenever someone posts any kind of opinion, observation, satire, etc., all the roaches - errr trolls - errrr experts come out and begin to pick apart the post as if it were something that were to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine? They childishly attack every non-point that they can imagine. The beautiful thing about blogging is that it encourages and punishes spontaneous thought all in one easy location.

Tom Gilson said...

I missed this post last Sunday. If you think PowerPoint is evil, wait until you see the !

Ed Darrell said...

As much as I hate to admit your being correct about something, you are correct, right, spot on, about PowerPoint.

If you desire to use visuals, however (I sense you don't), you might want to spend some time at Presentation Zen. There is no particular reason we can't have art that complements our lectures.

Here's the site:

Good stuff.

Tim said...

The absurd and spiteful comments posted by "i love jesus" reminded me of a story from the life of Confucius. Someone asked him what he would think of a man who is well liked by everyone in his village. "It is not enough," Confucius replied. "One must be liked by the good people and disliked by the bad ones."