A new roof went on my house this week, the result of hail damage. The contractor has a gray beard and wears an Amish-style hat. But he's really not Amish, so it doesn't raise any eyebrows when he uses a cell phone.
However, when he calls me from the ladder outside my office window, wanting me to look out at a piece of decking he removed, and we're face-to-face, with just a window in between, something seems odd.
Those situations used to go this way: he would knock, I would open the door and talk face-to-face. We could see each other this way, but without a cell phone we wouldn't hear each other. Then it occurred to me, heck, just open the window! That's how it used to be done.
I like technology as much as anyone. I write about it all the time. I'm not very good at using the latest apps and features, but it comes in handy. The contractor also called me from the roof a couple times, which meant he didn't have to come down the ladder.
But it got me to thinking – is all this new technology really beneficial? I feel almost like I'm not dressed if I don't have my cell phone in my hand or in my pocket. Am I using technology, or is it using me?
Here's a case in point. I coach a soil judging team. We recently went to the state contest in Harrison County. We made some mistakes and didn't place well. It wasn't our day.
Then I see an email from an ag teacher complaining that Scantron wasn't accurate. He had a student score several points lower than how they marked their answers. The teacher had the student fill out a Scantron back at school and run it just to see. The Scantron, which reads black dots and does it in a matter of seconds, was about 12 points off from what the student really earned.
Reports form teachers at the state 4-H and FFA livestock contest s indicate there were some obvious Scantron errors there too. Right now, whatever Scantron says is the law as far as contest organizers are concerned.
We wouldn't have placed this time even if Scantron didn't get our score just right. That's not the point. The point is that faster and easier isn't always more accurate. A student does his or her best, and gets penalized either by making a wrong mark on a card, or not making a dot dark enough for a machine to read. That doesn't seem right.
In the old days, not more than about 10 years ago, score cards were hand-graded. Everybody – coaches and students, met at the pits after the contest for a critique by the judges. Coaches and kids saw firsthand what the right answers were supposed to be and why.
Now, since they come back to school to do Scantrons, and since results are ready within an hour or so, hardly anybody goes back to the pits. Many coaches never see the pits, and contestants rarely see them once they know the right answers.
Hand-grading was a chore, and yes, there were human errors too. But more often than a student got the score they thought they got.
Is faster and easier always better, even if it is impersonal and has errors of its own? I'm not so sure. I think we ought to evaluate technology instead of just use it because we can.