Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Daylight Savings, Digital Thinking, and the Census

Early Sunday morning I padded through the house engaged in the semi-annual turning of the clocks. While I do appreciate the time-saving attributes of cellphones and computers that adjust the time automatically, I don’t mind spending the few minutes moving the minute hands on our old-fashioned clocks and watches.

Being analog in a digital world means that, although we are more comfortable with information in the form of pictures, we are too often forced to view information in numerical form. It takes me a split-second longer to recognize a digital “9:27” than the image on an old-fashioned clockface.

Worse, we must throw items into arbitrary buckets so that computers can sort them easily. The digital age can't have infinite shades of gray; about a dozen are all that the color wheel can handle.

Speaking of arbitrary categories, I just filled out the census form for the household. It took me only five minutes to complete, and the seven questions per individual (nine for the first responder, c'est moi) were simple enough for a third grader to answer.

The Census Bureau wanted to know our names, dates of birth (plus age this April 1st--are they surreptitiously checking whether I can do elementary math?), sex (hooray for not using "gender," an attribute of words, not human beings, but I'm afraid that ship has sailed), and race. As in the 2000 census we are allowed to check off more than one racial classification, a good thing for my extended family members, none of whom are "pure" anything.

One more perfunctory question about whether individuals live in the household the entire year or called away for educational, military, or criminal reasons, and we were done. I was happy that the questions weren't more intrusive; on the other hand, if census data were going to be used to make decisions about government programs, why this preoccupation with race? The ingredients in the American pot continue to melt, and IMHO race is much less important than education, income/wealth, politics, religion, and, of course, the blogs that one reads. The U.S. Census: another example of a digital program that finds it difficult to adapt to an analog world. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

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