Monday, April 3

Today, I was back in a temp job that exists because of a badly designed interface to a mediocre database. I spent the bulk of my time acting as a physical conduit for a 6 digit identification number: Reading said number from a listbox on one part of the screen, and typing it into a search field a few hundred pixels away.

I have actually done this set of tasks, more or less, for this particular organization in the past. Even if I hadn't, the whole process would be familiar. Most of the data entry I've ever encountered is basically the same (though there's considerable variation in the decency of the people who will pay you to do it).

Data entry tends to be built on the sort of task that just hasn't been automated yet. For some real-world jobs — such as transcribing human speech from tape, or assigning physical delivery addresses in an office building to newly delivered cardboard boxes — this is because automation would require strong AI or factory-scale robotics. For most of the ones I encounter, it is because I — your humble narrator, the wage slave between the keyboard and the monitor, my pale skin awash in the dead glow of fluorescent lighting filtered through textured plastic, reeling slightly from the haze of permanent marker — act primarily as an organic patch on some series of logical/procedural/design stupidities, inefficiences, and malfunctions.

There is something about the prevalence of this kind of work, and that of its manual labor near-equivalents, that fascinates and horrifies. It is work as pure waste energy, all but a tiny residuum of effort lost in the perfectly unnecessary.