Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Case for the Human

Don't expect anything original from an echo. ~Author Unknown

Anyone who can be replaced by a machine deserves to be. ~Dennis Gunton

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

"Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow" so they [the Shakers] used to say. Work was an intrinsic part of their spiritual lives, thus its integrity was part of its appeal.

What is it like to think your job could be replaced by a machine? That scenario has become a reality to millions of people through the ages, starting as soon as the first machine was invented. After all, think of the many chores that have been eased for us as a society for which we used to have to labor with great difficulty. I can tell you with deep sincerity that I'm thankful I don't have to sew a dress completely by hand, that I don't have to wash dishes by hand or wash clothes by hand. But even in machines there are human brains behind them.

Let's take a washing machine, for instance. In the first place, a human had to imagine the existence of such a machine when there were none to see, and then the inventor would have to try over and over, with succession and failure, creating various prototypes and learning from them what works and what doesn't. Human brains even had to build the machines in the factories which helped produce the washing machines in great quantities. After all this human work, the washing machine lands in my house. I still have work to do. Sure, I only have to push a few buttons, but decisions are made by my human brain every step of the way. What items are going in? How are they separated? Considering the fabric, what cycles should be used? Hot or cold? Long or short? Heavy or delicate? What kind of detergent? Are there stains that need special attention? Should I take an item out to line dry or put it in the dryer? So far, at least, a washing machine has not reached my house that, when I dump a basket of dirty clothes on the floor in front it it, the machine sorts the items, makes all these decisions, opens its own door, sucks the laundry in, and cleans everything according to directions. My brain is still involved.

....As it is with medical transcription. It tickles me when non-MTs, upon questioning what I do all day, say, "What's the big deal? You just type what you hear." Oh my, if that were the case, there would be some very strange and incomprehensible medical records! Frequently the dictator will misspeak, and just as frequently my ears will hear something erroneously that the dictator did not say. The focus one must have for this job is incredible. The MT is driving along, sometimes down a familiar road, sometimes a totally new and unfamiliar one, and every second the MT is looking ahead to envision what is around the corner, at the same time looking in the rearview mirror to make sure everything was OK on that end, simultaneously trying to block out visual and auditory distractions as well as brain waves that would rather think about her personal grocery list or what to get her nephew for his birthday. And believe me, for most MTs, this car is speeding crazily down the interstate, not ambling down some lazy country back road.

If a machine can truly duplicate my job in a perfect way, then I'm not doing something right, because my human brain is my greatest asset in this job. As long as I never fall under the rule of "verbatim," a ridiculous (in my opinion) instruction to send the brain on vacation and type exactly and only what you hear, no matter how wrong you realize it to be, I am happy in this job. (Fortunately, I've always been allowed to use my gifts and my brain is always an active participant.)

I've heard that the Shakers had a philosophy of doing their work with integrity and to the glory of God. No matter if they were washing a plate, making a chair, or cooking a meal - they knew the integrity of what they were doing, and the importance of what they were doing, no matter how simple or how mundane it appeared to be. They used the same heart and soul and intent when they weeded the garden as they did when they designed a beautiful cabinet. The brain was engaged, the heart was engaged, their whole beings were engaged. What a beautiful attitude!

Changing the Thoreau quote above for my career, "It's not what you hear that matters; it's what you interpret." It's logic, it's experience, it's ear training, it's brain training. The letters, words, and sentences flow out of my fingers through my brain, through all my life experiences, every book I've read (even non-medical ones), every person's voice I've heard in my lifetime, nuances of speech, my education in French - and it all adds up to much more than a machine throwing back echoes. Through my complex brain storing my life experiences and learning, through my dependable quick fingers which follow the flow, through my heart which aches for the dying, celebrates with the newly born, and follows the courses of patients with their personal challenges and fears, through my very being, my job unfolds. I would like to think, yes, I do think, that that cannot be totally and in true essence replaced by a machine. I only hope the medical world realizes that and makes its decisions accordingly.


Cuidado said...

You are the most excellent writer, Carol. You really make one think, which I believe, is your point.

Your thoughts about listening and hearing for your auditory based job makes me compare looking and seeing in regards to my art. Seeing comes in different levels and the more you"see", the easier it is.

Carol Tiffin James said...

Thanks, Cuidado. Just realizing there is a difference in looking and seeing, knowledge and wisdom, hearing and listening - all those things could keep me pondering for the rest of my life!