Dave Schuler wonders if tablets in the workplace are new status symbols:
When I see this I can’t help but wonder if we’re not going to experience something similar to what happened when PCs hit the market nearly 30 years ago. When PCs first hit the market they were status symbols. The less likely you were to use them the more likely you were to have them. As the prices went down (which they did for a while) they became increasingly common and ultimately ubiquitous. However, despite the investment well into the billions companies really had very little to show for it.
He goes on to note that the computers did eventually earn their keep, so to speak.
When the Internet became the Internet, I was still in school. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why all of these employers were so ready and willing give their employees a tool by which they would be able to distract themselves from ever doing work. The deadweight loss had to outstrip any efficiency gains. I actually stand by that assessment, at the time. But as with computers, and the Internet, I think that you have to take on that loss before the real productivity gains are really seen. I remember when a company I worked for went paperless for our day-to-day activities. It was an unbelievable waste of time. I hated it. But it was a necessary intermediate step before we could get used to it, get the lay of the land, and then suddenly see all of the potential gains that came from not having to print everything out repeatedly. It takes time to speed up.
My wife’s work laptop denies her access to the Internet. Her work PC is so heavily filtered as to be a hindrance (note: a lot of legitimate things that doctors are going to look up are going to have “sexual content” or keywords that suggest violence). Somehow, with the Internet, we went from it being a glorious waste of time to something that hinders our ability to do our job without it.
Which brings me back to tablets. My wife doesn’t have a tablet to do her job. I suspect that if she got one, it would actually be helpful rather quickly. Just as soon as the software to do her job better is in place. For other doctors, I think it would take longer or it would sit unused the same way that the Pocket PC they gave her at one of her jobs was never so much as powered on. Over time, however, it will become increasingly incorporated into every day functions and a real productivity gain. Schuler isn’t denying this. But I think that you have to make the investment now and experience the loss for the gains to come later. Doctors need to get used to using them. Then, when they are, they will start saying “Hey, you know what would be helpful? If I could do… this… on the tablet.”
To hold back on tablets until everything is in place for it to be a substantial gain means that all of the things put in place are going to be done so by software designers and IT people that have no idea how the product will be used. They may sign on some doctors to ask, but even the doctors won’t know until they’ve incorporated it into their practice. It’s trial and error, and the trial part is costly.