Automation vs. control

The title assumes that automation is about giving up, to whatever degree, control of a process. That’s a key tension in many of the systems I design for peacebuilding. Users like to know they are in charge of what’s happening, but complex processes are impossible to manage without some degree of automation, even if at the end of the day nothing really significant happens without human approval. 

One example – InfoShare’s OneText system on Groove Virtual Office. All the underlying asynchronous and secure communications architecture which made sure everyone’s files and data were up to date was completely automatic. On the other hand, users didn’t want the programme to access their personal folders on their PCs and automatically ferret documents and directories to share with other stakeholders. They wanted control over what was shared.

I felt the same way today when a few months after I switched to Leopard, I enabled Time Machine. I’ve been happy with the free and very easy to use iBackup to date, but I must admit that I’m careless about keeping my machine on at the anointed time for the scheduled backup to work. As I write this, Time Machine is silently and completely automatically backing up every single vital file on my machine to my external hard drive. The degree of faith involved in this is significant – I don’t take optical backups (I have around 41Gb of data which just takes too much of time to burn) and I am mortified about the restoration process if (when!) something goes wrong. Time Machine will do this every hour, every day I keep my machine on and connected to the external hard drive. 

It was David Pogue’s recent column that finally swung my decision. Given that I’m entrusted 6 years worth of emails to it and some irreplaceable photos and music, this had better be everything that Pogue and Apple say it is!

I’m mindful that humanity is already losing more information than it is backing up or frighteningly, has the capacity to backup. I just hope I won’t be part of that statistic. 

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