Recently, I happened to be driving near the local high school as it was ending the day. I saw a lot of students walking home alone or in groups. Interestingly, all were plugged into their smart phones listening to God knows what. At the gym later on, I experienced a similar phenomenon. It’s incredibly quiet there as people are plugged into their phones. I’ve given up trying to hold a conversation with people there, and it is pretty much the same in offices as well.
As someone intimate with the industry, I have always found technology addiction interesting, but I wonder if we have taken it to the sublime. I have a friend who moves automobiles between dealerships and is scared to death of the people plugged into their smart phones while driving, either talking, reading messages, texting, etc. None of this is new, but has it gotten too pervasive?
Day in and day out, I have been actively using computers for over forty years, but do not consider myself to be an addict. I started by using mainframes at customer locations. In the office, we used an HP-3000/MPE mini, and a DEC VAX/VMS (my personal favorite), followed by PC’s using OS/2 (which I still consider the best PC operating system ever invented), as well as Windoze. When it comes to phones, I use a simple flip-top to communicate with people, but I never had any interest in surfing the Net with it.
I have used computers for corporate planning, system design, data base design, project management, and a ton of writing assignments over the years, not to mention developing multimedia presentations. I’ve been on the Internet since the late 1980’s, including e-mail, web design, and FTP protocols. When I’m at work, I am on the computer from early in the morning until late in the day. So, Yes, I’m intimate with computers which explains why I want to “unplug” at the end of the day and have no trouble leaving it behind me. When I go fly-fishing, I look forward to the quiet solitude of the river. However, I believe I am an anomaly as I can leave it all behind, and many people cannot.
Through miniaturization, we have made it incredibly easy to perform normal computing tasks in the palm of our hands. Perhaps too easy. This includes all of the messages, e-mails, tweets, news bulletins distracting us during the day. When the phone rings or vibrates, people have been conditioned to respond immediately, not later. Sure, we also have access to games, audio and video, but more than anything, it is this easy access to information that is causing the addiction. It is analogous to the junkie who gives you free drugs to start your addiction.
Instead of turning off the technology now and then, people prefer leaving it on 24/7. This is where I differ with people. Even though I am imbued in technology, I have no problem walking away from it. No, I do not need to read every message, e-mail, or tweet that someone writes. I can look through them later at my leisure, and most likely, I will not respond. Unfortunately, others are less disciplined and find the urge to review everything irresistible. My question is, do we really need to jump for every message, regardless how frivolous it might be? Probably not.
This is all a matter of discipline and etiquette. For example, during dinner time with the family, No, it is not necessary to respond to a message. It’s more important, and courteous, to talk with people around the table. The same is true in a corporate setting where you are attending a meeting or training session. Leave the phone alone, and engage in the meeting instead. As an instructor myself, nothing is more irritating than to see someone reaching for their phone. If you have to answer a call or respond to a message, take it outside; do not distract others.
In other words, we can overcome some of our technology addiction by applying some simple common-sense discipline, such as:
1. In a social setting with others, turn the phone off or at least silence it. Do not reach for it while others are talking. Excuse yourself if necessary. Translation: Don’t be rude.
2. Adjust your priorities so that a live person is more important than a machine.
3. Do not allow the technology to dominate you, you dominate the technology. I say the same thing about guns when hunting.
If all you are doing is responding in a Pavlovian manner to a computer, you have got some real problems. Do yourself a favor, just turn it off now and then, the world will still be there when you get back.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com
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