Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Archive for the tag “Walmart”


Once upon a time (preemptive pun), there was a genius named Frederick Winslow Taylor. Equipped with a clipboard and stopwatch, he revolutionized office and manufacturing procedures in the early part of the last century. (The Principles of Scientific Management, 1911.)

I learned this as a young teen by reading Cheaper By The Dozen. The book was about applying time-study methods to life with the twelve children of the husband and wife efficiency team of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. (The 1950 movie starred Clifton Webb; the remake in 2003 starred Steve Martin.)

Fifteen years later, I learned of another goal, effectiveness, from the top management guru, Peter Drucker. Taylor preached efficiency, but effectiveness was more important. Yet, many organizations prefer efficiency over effectiveness.

In Taylor’s day, efficiency was symbolized by the stopwatch. Today’s efficiency is a quantity that can be measured more accurately by computers. Effectiveness is a quality determined by humans making value judgments.

Efficiency is easy to measure; it’s what is happening now. It’s harder to measure tomorrow’s consequences of today’s actions. Effectiveness is about judging consequences. It requires humans to make those judgments. Efficiency can be reduced to numbers churned out by computers.

Computer numbers are easy to acquire, super-fast to calculate, and can be analyzed a million different ways. The human judgments necessary for effectiveness are hard to acquire, slow to evaluate, and difficult to analyze.

In discussing the woes of modern workers, two companies are manipulative in the extreme: Walmart and Amazon. Their success is built on the diminution of human margins.

Is it any wonder that companies like these are using the computer as a modern stopwatch? In the name of efficiency, they’re pushing their workers to act like machines. To what end?

Using Taylor’s Scientific Management, companies are reshaping human jobs to better fit the robot workers of tomorrow. You could say the jobs are being tailored to suit the robots. (Begin with a pun; end with a pun.)

Too Much Is Not Enough

This past Thursday, I went online to buy replacement color cartridges (C, M, Y) for my Brother color laser printer (HL-3040CN). Didn’t think this would be a big deal, timewise, because I’d bought the black cartridge (BK) online two months ago. My plan was simple: Try Amazon first and compare to Walmart (where I’d bought the black).

On Amazon, I quickly found my way to Brother color laser cartridges. Scrolled past a bunch of stuff (that did not have my requested “TN-210” in their descriptions), and found the first cartridge. But why did I have to scroll past items that didn’t match my search?

When you know exactly what you want, and specify it exactly in the search, Amazon (among many others) shows you unrelated items. Why? Do they think I don’t know what I want? Do they think I’m just browsing? If their answer to any of these questions is Yes, then they should offer more help with the search, e.g., do you mean, etc.

But they (all of them) don’t. As a result I—and most likely you and everyone else—have to wade through extraneous crap. (If it isn’t what I’m looking for, it’s crap to me.) I found the other two cartridges a few rows down. Why? If these are similar items from the same source, why aren’t they all together?

Anyway. When I checked at Walmart they didn’t have any color cartridges, just the black. Huh? Well, never mind. Went back to Amazon for options. Mistake. I found a few compatible cartridges (especially a full set of four for the price of one factory cartridge). Sadly, all of them had too many iffy reviews.

Another option: In all this searching, I’d seen what appeared to be a set of four (apparently factory) cartridges for the price of three individual cartridges. Pretty Good Deal? Not yet. First, I confirmed my three factory cartridges were from the same source (one had a different picture). Then I went looking for the four-for-three deal. Mistake. COULD NOT FIND IT AGAIN!

How was this possible? Easy. There’s just too much information—most of it irrelevant—and if it’s not irrelevant then it’s poorly organized. Given the way they control how we search this information, it’s too hard to find what you want easily—even if it’s known and fully-described. All this information, presented as it is, is just not enough to get the job done without far too much wasted time.

Information is like ice cream: Too much of a good thing just isn’t.

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