Posted by: Monideepa Tarafdar | August 4, 2010

The Technology Treadmill: Finding Your Pace

More than perhaps at any time in the history of our social and economic enterprise, we are connected with technology. On a 24/7 basis. Through our computers, smart phones, iPods and even our cars, we seem to be in continual information processing mode – information that could be about business email, exam notes from school, favorite songs and movies, our kids’ soccer games,  our next vacation destination and so on. It is difficult in today’s world to not be connected to a barrage of devices and information inputs, whether at home or at work. (Check out a series of recent commentaries).

What does being connected expose us to? Working with managers who use these technologies, colleagues and I observed the following. One, it overloads us with information. Often, more than we can effectively process. Can you really remember the names of all the different tours that the Google search on your next vacation spot yielded? Do you really need to? The more connected devices we carry around us, the more information we are exposed to. A lot of it is not useful to us, we do not require it and we probably are wasting our time even trying to process it. Second it invades our lives – the onslaught of emails, texts, tweets, face book walls leaves us exhausted. Initially it can be exciting, but soon is becomes addictive – we feel like we simply HAVE to check email and the wall before going to sleep.  What with our schedules at home and work, if we are given to constantly crane our eyes and necks for the next ping of information from all the devices and applications we carry around, we are left with very little time left for reflection, thinking or even just closing eyes and relaxing. Third, it generates conflict. No kidding about that one. Consider: during a vacation with your family, do you check office email? Does it take away from time spent with family? Fourth, it is scary. Keeping up with the constant upgrades and changes that is. No sooner did we figure out Vista, we have Windows 7, we hardly got used to 3G, when 4G comes along. Just as Office 2007 started looking and behaving okay, we have office 2010. Where does it end? How does one keep up? And if one does not, how does one deal with one’s ignorance at the water cooler? Indeed, if you are not one of those first movers that take to every device the first week of its launching, it is a good idea to periodically go to Best Buy and at least see what is there, just so that you are not dinosaured.

It would be foolish to wish away this constant connectivity and the need to work with computers/smart phones.  Indeed it would not even be desirable because computers have too many upsides to them.  Almost all of us can find ways to improve and have more fun in what we do, by using some of these devices and their networking capabilities. So, how do we handle this? We found that those that could, better than others, had some things in common. First and most important, accept the reality – that this sort of connectivity and the changes it brings cannot be wished away. That indeed is half the job done. Once you accept it you can then move on to how to deal with it.  Next, educate yourself about the gadgets and features that keep emerging. No, not all of them, but those that you might find useful or have fun with. Everyone does not use all the features of every device they own. If you are an entrepreneur for instance, you may want to use your iPhone as a device to keep track of your clients (i.e. phone book apps) or communicate with them (email or twitter apps) or follow their professional developments (social networking/LinkedIn type apps). You need not know every cool  camera app or GPS app that comes along. On the other hand if you are a grandma, a connected device that is a camera as well as a means to share pictures and updates with your grand kids would be a fun thing to have. So, education means not just knowing, but knowing what you should know. Third, ask. And ask. And ask yet again. Colleagues, friends, kids, siblings, parents – a 10 minute conversation with someone who knows something specific about a Blackberry is worth many hours of pouring over manuals and websites. There are simply too many applications and possibilities with these tools and more emerge every single day. The Apple App Store has 200,000 applications, and counting rapidly.  It would be very stressful to try to understand all of it. So use FaceBook, Twitter, Youtube, blogs to find out who knows what you want to know. And you can find out if you know what they want to know and get a conversation going – that is, after all, the point. Fourth, stick to the fun or usefulness aspects. If you sense that using a particular feature is stressful, not useful or not fun- stop. You have probably reached a reasonable optimal level or style of usage with that device and going further will be counter-productive and counter-intuitive for you. I know folks who need to be connected because they work with information all the time, but who will switch off email pings or even the browser, when then have to concentrate on something. So find out your style and stick to it.

Technology has always been a double edged sword – today it is even more so because it has permeated almost every aspect of our lives  – it is difficult to make out the boundaries of where one ends and the other begins. It is nice to be able to weed out the distraction, stress and interruptions from it so that we can use it to improve the quality of our lives, be more productive and just have fun using it to do things that really make sense for us. So, from Star Wars –Luke: What’s in there? Yoda: Only what you take with you.

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