Is a computer always the most efficient tool?

October 7, 2010

Speaking of Game Theory, I’ve got another story from that class that is relevant to this blog.

Two of the problems on a recent homework assignment asked us to draw out the extended form of some games, which involves drawing lots of lines one way and some dotted lines the other way. It looks something like a system of roots growing sideways.

Each week, we’re required both to turn in a paper copy of the homework and to submit a digital file through CTools, the course management website. Our professor likes to have the digital copy just so there’s a record that we submitted it on time. He was, however, sporting enough to say that for problems that required drawings, we could simply write “See paper version” or the like on the digital submission and that would suffice.

Nevertheless, before class, some students were showing off their computer print-outs of extended form games which they had gone to elaborate lengths (by their own description) to create in the likes of Microsoft Paint.

I found myself thinking far too much about this as we all handed in our homework. Wouldn’t it have saved a lot of time and effort just to draw them with a pencil? I love finding new ways to use my computer1, but just because computers can do a lot of things faster doesn’t mean they can do everything faster.

I think what iSchools should be teaching is that different technologies have different benefits. Oh, wait, that’s what they are teaching. The idea that each technology has different affordances was a key concept in our core class, SI500, which we all had to take first semester. But it seems there is a cohort here that consists of a certain type of student who thinks everything can and should be done on a computer. Is that really “connecting people, information, and technology in more valuable ways” as our school’s motto suggests?

As other of my classmates said with a laugh, only in the School of Information would anyone go to that length of trouble. Which makes me think some of my classmates are missing the point.2

(I must note that I did think of one possible logical explanation here: it may be that these students wanted a digital archive of absolutely all of their work, in which case, they have no choice but to spend extra time figuring out how to duplicate their pencil-sketched efforts in Microsoft Paint. I can’t imagine the benefits of such an archive are worth the trade-offs of time, but then, that’s a matter for my classmates specializing in Archives and Records Management and Preservation of Information to pick up and run with, should they choose to do so. This doesn’t change the fact that the computer was not an efficient way to solve and submit the homework problem.)

  1. Like, most recently, teaching myself how to sing a harmony part by downloading MIDI music software and plugging the notes to two parts into the digital staff.
  2. Or, if they were really determined to use a computer, there’s always looking to see what’s already out there that, with the help of a screencap, could make their lives easier.

3 Responses to “Is a computer always the most efficient tool?”

  1. Hm…but if they did want a digital archive all they would have to do was take their drawings and scan them using the handy dandy scanners at the UGLI which can be used for free!

    Face it your classmates are just masochists. :)

  2. I’m glad a real live archivist came up with this idea and thereby added value to the post. :)

    Oh, I whole-heartedly agree that they are; I was just trying to give them the benefit of the doubt in case anyone else came along and assumed I had not. But I think you’re right and they’re just wasting time and effort.

  3. […] at the Ford School, I’m totally normal. So, it might be that SI is just full of zealots, as I was saying. This is encouraging to me. At the very least, maybe the people in charge of our national security […]

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