Why Automate?

Many people, when they enter my home, notice that I have four echo dots scattered across my house. At first, they wonder why I would need so many echo dots, until they see how I use them:

  • multiple cooking timers
  • to-do list entry
  • disable/enable alarm system
  • turn off lights
  • change intensity of lights
  • turn on devices like heaters (and then having them automatically turn off 30 minutes later)

There are ways to accomplish all of these things without an Echo dot, but it sure makes it easier to do things with voice when my hands are otherwise occupied by children or typing.

Then, they get further annoyed when I show them all the Shortcuts I’ve built (in the iOS shortcuts app):

  • a 10 second process to send a thank you email for a baby gift, complete with an animated gif
  • a button that sends a text to my daycare provider and calculates the time it will take to get there as a variable in the message, along with a map of the quickest route
  • a button that takes a picture of my son’s daycare report and puts it into an OCR notebook with one tap.

Some people have claimed that “all this automation” is going to make us dumb. That with all of the ways we can make tasks happen more quickly, we’re losing the ability to have patience that builds up with process.

But consider that all of the people complaining about automation making us dumb use automation daily to accomplish their goals. It’s just that those automations have become commonplace, almost to the point of necessity. You use a car instead of a horse to get around, and Uber if a car isn’t available. You use a pencil to draw rather than finding a stray stone and whittling it down to a point. You use a computer every day at your job instead of writing everything by hand, you send email instead of letters, and you use a credit card and a bank to store your money instead of putting cash in a hiding place in your house.

Automation serves us and solves problems in our lives. It’s not just for efficiency though that is a huge benefit. How much more time do I get to spend on the things I truly love and automate the rest? When I was a teacher, the question I asked was how much time do I get to spend doing the creative act of teaching and less on the reports and administrative stuff? People would make fun of me for how much I automated, but I guarantee I had more cognitive energy to teach than I would have had otherwise.

I don’t believe smart technology is making us dumb. More likely, it’s making us numb. We don’t even realize how useful it is, so we make up narratives about how it’s making us worse off. This doesn’t include social apps like Facebook and Twitter, because those actually take up more of your minutes with unnecessary clicking than does enabling your alarm system with an Echo dot.

Mindfulness around how technology is used is key. Intentionality around using it to allow more time for the things you truly value in life (which tend to be non-technology related things). It’s why we automate in the first place.