Part 32. The Big Lie
"People are much more susceptible to the big lie than to the small one, for
they already tell little lies every day. They cannot imagine that someone would
actually fabricate a colossal lie." - Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf.
If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, after a while it may become believable
in the minds of those to whom the propaganda is directed. This is the principle
behind every form of religious cult, every form of sadistic and brutal dictatorship,
and every form of brainwashing: the repetition of a lie to the point of acceptance
into the culture of the indoctrinated. Nowadays this form of thought control has
found a new field of endeavor: business.
The Big Lie as promoted by Microsoft is very simple: "Windows improves productivity
because it is intuitive." This is really a two-part lie. First, we must accept
without question the Microsoft assertion that Windows is intuitive -- whatever that
means. Then we must make the leap of faith that a so-called intuitive software product
will automatically make people more productive. Microsoft has been very effective
at promoting both parts of this lie, to the point that people will even change measurements
and definitions in order to make the real results somehow fit into the new expectations
caused by these false statements.
The fact is that Windows and other GUIs are intuitive only for chimpanzees and infants.
Chimps can be retrained to communicate with a palette of icons, and they will then
submissively obey orders to manipulate those objects represented by the icons, or
to point to the appropriate icon when asked. Infants, of course, have not yet developed
their built-in reading faculties and can only understand graphics. But when was
the last time you made a grocery list using icons instead of words? The human mind
communicates most efficiently, most eloquently, and most precisely with well-structured
text. Windows only seems easier because it reduces communication to the lowest-common-denominator,
not because it is "intuitive." Calling Windows intuitive is like calling
cartoons educational because they reduce life to the simplest terms. Perhaps cartoons
make a worthy distraction, but imitating cartoons on a computer screen actually
reprograms the brain toward illiteracy instead of intelligence.
But even if a computer program was "intuitive," would this necessarily
make people more productive? For example, would a toaster be more productive if
it inserted the bread automatically, but always burnt the toast? Sure, you would
get lots of toast, but it would be essentially useless. The most productive system
is the one that combines high reliability with high data rate, and Windows has neither.
Windows is both slower than text-based systems, and also less reliable. Windows
is easier to approach but harder to understand; one uses Windows without an understanding
of data processing principles, which leads to all sorts of foolish errors and oversights.
Windows provides a momentary "high" but often a disastrous "low"
in the long run.
So once the real-world data from the debacle of Windows comes pouring in, what do
the data managers do? They begin to participate in the Big Lie themselves, in order
to save their own necks. Having bought the phony expectations hook, line, and sinker,
the resultant productivity must be improved at all costs -- including downsizing
workers, cutting costs, forcing unpaid overtime, hiring temp workers -- whatever
it takes to boost the "apparent productivity" while the real per-hour
productivity falls. It is only a matter of time before the Big Lie gets exposed
and the charlatans in Redmond head for the hills with their unworthy profits.
Most recent revision: February 12, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.