I’ve been mulling Michael Schrage’s recent essay, Why You Should Automate Parts of Your Job to Save It, since I read it last week. Here’s the conclusion:

What is the most important thing you do on your job? What portion of that could be turned into an app that anyone in your organization could effectively use? What portion of that could be automated and fed directly into the larger system with only minimal review by you? What’s the least valuable but essential part of your job? Why aren’t you figuring out ways to automate it on your iPad or Android?

People with the best answers will likely discover they also have the best job security.

I agree with the premise. But something kept bugging me about the argument and today I realized what: the gadget focus. We’ve seen this before. Remember when computers in the schools were the answer? Now it’s smartphones and tablets in the workplace. But these are all just access devices. We focus on them because they seem more real than the networks they connect us to. It’s easy to see that devices made of metal and plastic are tools. It’s much harder to see that networks made of data formats and application protocols and communication topologies are tools. But information networks matter more than the devices we use to access them, or the applications that run on those devices. The key to the automation of knowledge work that Schrage righly prescribes isn’t learning how to use smartphones or tablets. Rather, it’s learning and then applying core principles that govern information networks.

Sadly we don’t teach these principles. Not even, in any systematic way, to information technologists. And certainly not to the bank loan officers and nurses and “iPad-wielding waitresses” in Schrage’s essay. Can it be done? I don’t know but I think I’d enjoy trying.