IT and productivity

June 28, 2013

Information technology, the internet, etc:  they’ve been a huge benefit to me and probably you, too. One example: my courses are all on the web, so if a student is suddenly sent to Singapore on business, she can access all the materials from there. We call that productivity. But there are lots of examples in which one side of a transaction uses technology to shift costs to the other. I don’t know what to call that, but it’s not productivity.

I’m sure you have your own favorite example, but here’s mine. In my business, students need letters of recommendation to apply for jobs or graduate school. The economics business has this down to a science. If a PhD student applies for jobs, I upload a letter to econjobmarket.org, click “use for all jobs,” and I’m done. It takes some effort to write a good letter, but the technology works beautifully.

But here’s how the PhD application process works at Stern. We use an evil piece of software called ApplyYourself, which asks us to do the following for every school the student applies to, typically 20 or more:
* Click on link in email.
* If you failed to log out the previous time, you need to close your browser and start again.
* Login.
* Set new pw:  type old pw, new pw twice.
* Check to agree to terms and conditions.
* Enter contact information, including email address which, of course, they know, because they sent you an email.
* Complete drop-down menu of questions.
* Upload letter.
* Enter name and date — which, of course, they know.
* Submit.

Yikes! Who writes software like this? What can we do to resist its incursion into modern life? Is resistance futile, or can we fight back? Ideas welcome.

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