Today, technology is wonderfully ubiquitous. It runs our electric grids, keeps planes from crashing into one another, and puts the most treasured asset of all, information, at our fingertips. Yes, we are extremely fortunate that knowledge (information) is so easy to get and so easy to transfer and pass on to others.
There was a time when the only feasible research on many projects had to be performed in the bowels of libraries or academia. Not so today. The discerning researcher can very often get access to needed information simply by sitting at his/her laptop, connecting to the Internet, and ferreting out all kinds of data.
Communicating is far easier today. A cellphone that we might carry in our pocket (or stick in our ear) can put us in touch with people all over the world. The transference of files is now seamless. Tons of files, including multimedia files, can be gathered and sent throughout our planet.
So, one might ask, what are the negatives to having such amazing technology so available?
When Technology Works Against You
Obviously, I am not a Luddite, the word given to those early nineteenth-century artisans who were railing against the industrial revolution out of fear that it might take their jobs from them. I am not reviling the computer revolution. It is both amazing and astonishing, and I believe that it will continue to astonish and surprise us in years to come.
I have two main concerns about what the misuse of technology is doing to us as a society and as workers in that society. In these two areas, I think that some of us are becoming slaves to technology and are abandoning our rightful places as masters of it. The two areas most affected are social and psychological.
Social Consequences to the Misuse of Technology
Too often I see people of all ages behaving rudely because they are so obsessively dependent on their cellphones. They interrupt conversations to take a call, disturb theatrical performances by forgetting (we hope) to turn their cellphones off, text at inappropriate times, and generally become slaves to their electronic devices. What should be the slave, technology, has become the master, and we have morphed into mindless gerbils entrapped in an infinitely spinning loop. This isn’t the way technology was meant to assist us.
If the social consequences of some of us becoming slaves to technology aren’t enough, let’s take a look at how such behavior damages our focus, thus effectively limiting our work, or social, output.
Psychological Consequences of Misusing Technology
Many people I know like to talk about how they have to multi-task to get through the day. They feel the need to obsessively check their e-mail while working. They interrupt meetings and conversations by taking a cellphone call at inappropriate times. They feel compelled to drop whatever they are doing in order to instantly respond to a text message.
Sadly, so many people see these interruptions as necessary. I see them as lost opportunities to stay focused on the job (or social interaction) at hand, thus extending the time that it would ordinarily take to complete a given task. What many would respond is that they are actually being more efficient — they are multi-tasking.
However, all of the studies that I have read tell me that there really is no such thing as multi-tasking. Such behavior is counterproductive because it at the least results in lengthening the time in which to complete a task and at the worst results in errors that could otherwise have been avoided. In short, this type of behavior is working against your productivity and effectiveness and can do damage to your work or social life. Those involved in such counterproductive behavior have effectively allowed themselves to become slaves to our wonderful technology and have forfeited their role of being masters of technology.
Remedies to the Misuse of Technology
It is quite difficult to draw up a litany of sure-fire remedies that will break the addictive bonds that technology can create. Approaches that work for some people might not work for others. I recently read that some businesses are insisting that their employees be allowed to check their e-mails, or their text messages, only at certain times of the day — this frees them up to calmly and intently focus on the job at hand.
Some individuals and families who are using the social networking site Facebook set aside a slot of time during the week when they will be “Facebook free.” That is, they will not check what’s going on in their Facebook space during an allotted space of time.
Of course, there are parents who feel that they must be constantly connected in case an emergency arises with their children. There are several solutions to this dilemma, one of which is that they give an emergency contact number to someone who might have to contact them. That emergency number could be that of the operator at your place of business. There are many other ways by which we can put up a “firewall” around us that allows us to apply a laser-like focus on our work while still allowing certain people to be able to penetrate this firewall under certain circumstances.
The net result of protecting yourself from “too much technology” is that your life will be calmer, more focused, and obviously more productive. If we watched geniuses like Bill Gates focus on a problem or answer a reporter’s question, we would see a detached soul with Herculean and single-minded focus, undistracted by some of the very technology that he was instrumental in creating.
Looking Forward to the Ever-Emerging Benefits of Technology.
I tried out a Kindle reader recently and I was extremely impressed. Here is a device much thinner than the average paperback novel that can store hundreds of books. Not too long ago, Apple announced the creation of the iPad. This new device will further empower us in our never-ending search for information. We’ll be surfing the Internet, choosing one of our favorite books or doing a host of other amazing tasks, some of which will be interactive, thanks to the genius of the people of Apple.
Technology has unlimited potential and will no doubt provide us with many wonderful surprises in the not-too-distant future. We just have to remember who’s in charge, the electronic device or we. Good luck!
Theodore F. di Stefano is a founder and managing partner at Capital Source Partners, which provides a wide range of investment banking services to the small and medium-sized business. He is also a frequent speaker to business groups on financial and corporate governance matters. He can be contacted at [email protected].