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Humans v. Machines

Nov - 2 - 2008
Nicole C. Engard

Warning – this may turn into a rant – I haven’t decided yet :)

Last week I was in Texas to do some training for work. I rented a car at the Dallas airport and went on my way. It’s 11pm and I’ve been in airports and planes since 2pm, so I’m a bit tired. I come upon a toll and reach for my wallet. Less than 300 feet from the toll I see the sign saying that the toll is $1. I check my change pocket and find that I don’t have enough so I pull out a bill and get into the line that says ‘change made.’ I sit there for 5 minutes and the line never moves. I try to see around all of the cars in front of me to see what the problem is and I see cars getting out of line and moving to the ‘exact change’ lane. I reach into my wallet and carry on and scrounge up $1 in change (part of which was 5 pennies). I look around to see if there are any signs that tell me that pennies are not accepted – nothing. So I follow suit and get out of line. I got into the ‘exact change’ line and put my money in – then see the sign that says ‘no pennies.’ In the end (after 10 minutes of this nonsense) I run the toll.

Now, what does that have to do with machines and humans? Well, the next morning I figured out what the problem was at the toll booth that night. I’m heading to the library in the morning and I hit another toll. This one wants $.40, but I have no more change at all, so I give the ‘change made’ line a shot again. I pulled up to the toll and found that there was no one there to take my dollar bill. Instead here was a change machine that looked like it had seen better days. I put my bill in and it spits it back out. I try again and it spits it out – I reach into my wallet and pull out another bill and try again. I do this with 3 different bills and for at least 5 minutes, all the while a line of cars forms behind me. Eventually the machine takes my bill and I get change to pay the toll.

I have traveled through many states, but have never had such an experience – there is always a human at the toll that gives you change (and a receipt for that matter).

How does this relate to libraries? Simple – the common fear or misconception is that libraries will be replaced by the Internet and books replaced with ebooks – but the fact of the matter is that machines cannot replace humans. The Internet cannot replace a librarian and while ebooks are pretty darn awesome – they will never replace having a real book in your hand.

One last example. I’m in the process of editing my book and I find myself wanting to print everything out and spread it out on a desk to organize it (something I’m trying not to do so I can save paper and ink). The fact of the matter is that while computers are awesome and central to nearly every job out there (they’re even used at the toll booth by the human) – they will not (at least not in my world) replace humans.

Rant done :)

4 Responses so far.

  1. Good rant.

    As to your penultimate paragraph…I honestly can’t imagine doing a book-length project without, at least once, printing everything out to review and organize. (I use draft mode and duplex print, so I don’t use much ink or paper, but still…)

    For that matter, I won’t do an issue of Cites & Insights any more without printing the whole thing out once for off-computer review: I’ve caught too many problems that way. Somehow, things just don’t leap out on the screen that will on the page.

  2. Nicole says:

    Walt, thanks for the tip – I may bring it into Staples or something to print since my printer is slow and can’t do duplex. I think I do want to go through at least once or twice on the computer first – to save myself from printing too much that needs editing :)

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with the toll roads around here. The same types of problems finally drove me to getting a toll tag about eight years ago.

    Walt, I also have to print things out for final review. I’m very comfortable with computers, but know that it is too easy to overlook small spelling/grammatical errors when viewing on screen.

  4. Stuck after hours in an SYR parking garage, I found that the machine that would let me leave required $10 and would not take change. I would have gladly given my $20 to get out, but it wouldn’t take it! Interestingly, the normal day-rate for that garage is $14+, but I guess the machine can’t do that.

    Thankfully we will always need humans. Gives us something to do.


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