X Is Not About Y: Technological Improvements and Cognitive-Physical Demands

(I, the au­thor, no longer en­dorse this ar­ti­cle. I find it naive in hind­sight.)

Re­call the fol­low­ing tem­plate:

In some cases, hu­man be­ings have evolved in such fash­ion as to think that they are do­ing X for proso­cial rea­son Y, but when hu­man be­ings ac­tu­ally do X, other adap­ta­tions ex­e­cute to pro­mote self-benefit­ing con­se­quence Z.

I work in the sign in­dus­try, and it’s worth know­ing that the sign in­dus­try mostly in­volves print­ing images on cast sheets of polyv­inyl chlo­ride with ad­he­sive on the back of it. This al­lows you to stick a graphic just about any­where. Good-old-fash­ioned signs are now just a spe­cial case of vinyl ap­pli­ca­tion where the sur­face is a quadrilat­eral.

But some­times, it seems like you could cut out the vinyl in­stal­la­tion pro­cess: if you just wanted a solid white sign with some black text, and the sub­strate you’re go­ing to ap­ply the vinyl to is already white, wouldn’t it be nice if you could just print some black text di­rectly on the sub­strate?

That’s what a flatbed printer is for, which you can imag­ine as your stan­dard HP desk­top printer at 100x mag­nifi­ca­tion with an un­usu­ally long air hockey table where the pa­per slot should be.

Now, when the man­age­ment was try­ing to get the work­force ex­cited about this new tech­nolog­i­cal ar­ti­fact, they would say things like, “This new ar­ti­fact will re­duce the amount of time that you spend on vinyl ap­pli­ca­tion, leav­ing you less stressed and with a de­creased work­load.”

But when we ac­tu­ally started to use the ar­ti­fact, our jobs didn’t ac­tu­ally be­come less stress­ful, and our work­loads didn’t ac­tu­ally de­crease.

I mean, yeah, we could tech­ni­cally pro­duce the same num­ber of signs in less time, but a corol­lary of this state­ment is that we could pro­duce more signs in the same amount of time, which is what we ac­tu­ally did.

So, I pro­pose the sub­tem­plate:

Em­ployer pro­poses the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­nolog­i­cal ar­ti­fact X, os­ten­si­bly to re­duce phys­i­cal or cog­ni­tive de­mands, but when the em­ployer ac­tu­ally in­tro­duces tech­nolog­i­cal ar­ti­fact X, they re­al­ize it can be used to in­crease out­put and do that in­stead.

I won­der if any­one else has more ex­am­ples?