Tom Wolfe: CRT monitors caused the financial meltdown

Tom Wolfe on the cause of the financial crisis: CRT monitors with lamentably low refresh rates!

The whole thing, starting with the subprime, is the fault of the computer. I was just talking to a banker the other day, and not that long ago, 20 years ago, an investment banking house, let’s say, Lehman Brothers, when it got a package of mortgages, they would go through every mortgage, every single one, and they’d throw out the ones that just seemed absurd, they just wouldn’t accept them. Things used to arrive on paper. Today things arrive on a screen, and a screen is back lit, and one of the biggest pains in the neck is trying to read something dully written and complicated on a computer screen. It will drive you nuts — I mean, try it sometime. Now they say, “Oh, to hell with it,” and they just accept the whole package. And if it hadn’t been for that, they’d be going over each loan. What’s happened is the backward march of technology.

To be fair, he must have been kidding. Right?

Tom Wolfe Interview [Observer via Techdirt]

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23 Responses to Tom Wolfe: CRT monitors caused the financial meltdown

  1. PaulR says:

    SeppTB: Reading a book on a CRT? Gawd!

    Try one of these:
    http://irextechnologies.com/products
    It’s better than paper, if you ask me.

    I’ve read a half a dozen books, about thirty research papers, and a couple hundred magazine/newspaper articles on mine. So far, I’ve managed to get all my iLiad reading material for free, legitimately. And it runs Linux! TAKE THAT, ROI!

    Unlike a CRT (and a Kindle) you can scrawl ‘BULLSHIT!’ across the text you’re reading. Very handy for writing to the author.

    OK, you CAN do that on the CRT. And yes, on the Kindle, too.

    But, unless you plan on never changing the page after you written your ‘considered opinion’, not really…

    And for the record, Tom Wolfe wears white after Labour Day. Draw whatever conclusions you wish to…

  2. Anonymous says:

    No, it is what’s in front of the monitor that caused the economic crisis.

  3. triguy says:

    While I feel that Mr. Wolfe may be over simplifying the problem, I have been staring at this computer screen all day and my eyes feel like they are about to fall out.

  4. themindfantastic says:

    Tom is the old guard of the old school, and his works are masterpieces of that genre. Antiquated to say the least. Yes screens can cause issue, but unless the screen physically obscured the information, then well people who don’t do the DUE DILIGENCE when handling this stuff, something that they are supposed to do, a JOB REQUIREMENT, shouldn’t be allowed to find fault with technology they are trained to use.

  5. mdh says:

    I think he was saying that computers have made us lazy, and I think he’s right.

    Whenever I edit work for a junior colleague, I insist on doing it on paper, for the same reason.

  6. bardfinn says:

    Finally, evidence to back my Master’s Thesis: Blame it On Times New Roman.

  7. Kevin says:

    While disjointed, Tom Wolfe has a point.

    Think about trying to read a novel, or a long contract, on a computer screen instead of printed out on paper.

  8. MajorD says:

    That’s not the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day, I think. But it’s close. First of all, I was at Lehman Bros. 30 years ago, and even then, mortgages were in huge pools and looked at in the aggregate. And reports in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS PRINTED ON COMPUTER GREENBAR PAPER wasn’t so damned easy to read either.

    Modern software can take all that info and display it much more effectively. Make it easier to see the outliers, the weird deals, the bad stuff — if the people responsible for the quality of the deals demand the right apps to do their job. Anybody who’s managing a bunch of people who are just passively scanning endless lines of print data needs a dope slap.

  9. dculberson says:

    I prefer to blame it on Comic Sans. Whatever it is.

  10. royaltrux says:

    So, inexpensive laser printers were too late to save the day?

  11. Asreiss says:

    So, in short, the banking crisis was caused by:

    1) Kids today

    and

    2) Newfangled contraptions.

  12. bcarnell says:

    Computers haven’t made us lazy — we were lazy long before computers came along.

    After all it is not as if booms, recessions and depressions are something that are a 21st century innovation. For example, there was the Long Depression of the late 19th century which was a lot like the current economic crisis — a collapse in available money and credit.

    And nary a CRT in sight.

  13. SeppTB says:

    #2 Kevin – I’ve read several novels on a computer screen – I found it rather enjoyable.

    Oddly enough, if I read anything of length printed on normal copier/printer stock white paper – my eyes start to burn. Normal novels typically are ok for me, the paper on those are a softer gray. I think being raised reading from a computer screen almost exclusively is responsible.

  14. TJ S says:

    Quick! Somebody call Amazon, and get them to donate 1,000,000 Kindles to banks so loan applications aren’t as tedious and headache-inducing to read!

  15. mblafkin says:

    I know it’s fun stirring the temptest in a teapot, but seriously folks. Tom Wolfe is a satirist who wears a white suit nearly ever day, rain or shine, winter or summer. Absurdity is his stock in trade. It is his brand. It is an affectation that he uses to great effect in his work.

    Does he REALLY mean that the whole financial mess is “the fault of the computer.” Un-bloody-likely.

    However, within that absurd statement is a kernel of truth about the speed at which we move today, the speed with which computers enable us to move today, and the consequences of that speed. In our efforts to keep up with Internet Time we launch half-thought-out missives to our blogs, blast semi-conscious missiles from our Twitter accounts, and accept 1001 mortgages in a single click. Like the recent Google/United story, it reminds us that we are reacting so fast today while relying so heavily on our computers, that important decisions can be glossed over with disastrous results.

    http://blog.actonline.org/2008/10/does-anyone-rea.html

  16. St_Stevie says:

    Well, you know these tottering old bankers in their bowlers and monacles, they can hardly swipe their gnarled paws at a mouse without shattering one of their carpal bones. Also, monacle strain is a bitch.

  17. snej says:

    PSST: Brownlee, the financial industry hasn’t used CRTs for years. They were the first ones to switch to LCDs, because even though they used to be expensive, they saved space, and stock exchange offices are insanely expensive per square foot.

    Also, Wolfe is full of shit, of course, for the reasons amply described in previous comments.

  18. teamshadowboat says:

    For the record, Tom Wolfe dresses like this:
    http://www.achievement.org/achievers/wol0/large/wol0-005.jpg

  19. mblafkin says:

    I know it’s fun stirring the temptest in a teapot, but seriously folks. Tom Wolfe is a satirist who wears a white suit nearly ever day, rain or shine, winter or summer. Absurdity is his stock in trade. It is his brand. It is an affectation that he uses to great effect in his work.

    Does he REALLY mean that the whole financial mess is “the fault of the computer.” Un-bloody-likely.

    However, within that absurd statement is a kernel of truth about the speed at which we move today, the speed with which computers enable us to move today, and the consequences of that speed. In our efforts to keep up with Internet Time we launch half-thought-out missives to our blogs, blast semi-conscious missiles from our Twitter accounts, and accept 1001 mortgages in a single click. Like the recent Google/United story, it reminds us that we are reacting so fast today while relying so heavily on our computers, that important decisions can be glossed over with disastrous results.

    http://blog.actonline.org/2008/10/does-anyone-rea.html

  20. edgore says:

    Tom is totally right! If only there were some sort of device that could have somehow sucked up all the bits of those computerized loans, automatically compared them against some sort of standards, and then spit out a list of the ones that did not meet the minimum criteria! But alas, such a thing could never come to pass without magic!

    Tom is an idiot, and doesn’t understand the least little thing about mortgage securities. The problem was not that no one looked at the bad loans, its that debts were securitized in ways that made it impossible to look for and get rid of the bad loans, not that you would want to do that, since you had already bought insurance that would protect you in the event that the debt security failed. Or so everyone thought.

  21. Pete says:

    I look forward to his follow-up, where he points out that mathematics can be done too quickly with modern adding machines, and all logarithm look-ups should be done with slide-rules.

  22. Joel Johnson says:

    For the record, Tom Wolfe dresses awesomelike.

  23. Anonymous says:

    The difference is not paper versus screen but the fact that sometime during the last 20 years they found a lucrative way of selling on to unsuspecting customers the mortgages that used to be thrown out. They must have read them or they wouldn’t have devised such a complex scheme for selling them.

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