February 08, 2018

Reductio Ad Spreadsheet

Matt Ward has written a great piece about spreadsheets (no, really!).

"Relationships between staff, moments of educational joy, transformative learning experiences, where buried under numeric representation. The performance of the software hid the nuance of the experience, which ultimately made it more difficult for me to think about new possibilities. I found myself ever more adept in my new realism, but evermore disconnected to the future I was aiming to produce."

I wonder if spreadsheets have driven the mania for reducing all of life to numbers. This is most visible when the numbers equate to money, when all artistic output is judged solely on "value for money" or "ROI", but is also endemic in business support's desire for surveys and the like which reduce all work to a count of businesses, or employees, or thousands of pounds of investment raised.

As ever, we need better tools, rather than to force more and more of life into terms that digital computers understand.

That's not to say spreadsheets aren't useful tools. They are, but the reduction-of-life-to-a-simple-number is a seductive draw.

I think I properly embraced spreadsheets as a tool when we ditched Microsoft Project and started using Excel for project planning when I was at STNC. At least that was partly in response to the understanding that project plans are permanently incomplete pictures of what you'd like to happen, and so tools to let you edit quickly and get a good-enough feel for the shape and realism of dates/work are far better than ones that encourage you to obsess endlessly for the perfect Gantt chart. That doesn't ever stop your boss asking for an exact deadline date, mind... maybe that's the pressure point to poke at?

Posted by Adrian at February 8, 2018 11:16 AM | TrackBack

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