Friday, April 25, 2014

Is Technology Serving You or are You Serving It?

By Eve Sparks

Where would we be without our tech? Most of us rely on a battery of machines and gizmos that would have been the stuff of science fiction just a few decades ago simply to get through the working day. However, there aren’t many of us who can honestly say that we’ve never been hampered by technology. Perhaps its complexity has stopped us getting on with the task in hand, we’re now faced with a plethora of choices we’ve never had before and it’s doubtful that a better distraction or time-wasting machine than the internet has ever existed in human history.

Technology Could Even Be Making You Ill
Much fuss has been generated by a French agreement on work contact outside office hours. The BBC says: “that France has brought in rules to protect employees from work email disturbing them outside office hours”. In fact, a lot of the fuss was misdirected. It’s not a law and it only affects a very specific group of people, as BuzzFeed reported: “The only thing this new agreement means is that quarter of a million of them will have to step away from their work email for at least 11 hours a day.”

However, it does reflect a concern that the “always on” society could be making us sick. While its internationally popular to paint France either as a haven of active, rights-aware workers who get proper breaks, the BBC was able to report that German auto giant VW and a German government department had beaten the French to it. The BBC report reads: “In December 2011, Volkswagen announced that servers would stop sending emails 30 minutes after the end of employees' shifts, and only start again half an hour before the person returned to work.”

Addicted To the Screen
Technology addiction is now a widely recognised phenomenon, particularly among the generations who have grown up as “digital natives”. “The University of Maryland research described students’ thoughts in vivid detail, in which they admit to cravings, anxiety attacks and depression when forced to abstain from using media,” The Daily Telegraph reported back in 2011.

The ages of those affected are getting younger too. Teachers organisations are now complaining of kids arriving in formal education with iPad habits. “Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers also warned how some older children were unable to complete traditional pen and paper exams because their memory had been eroded by overexposure to screen-based technology,” The Daily Telegraph reported. Kids are even losing manual dexterity because they’re swiping but not playing with their fingers.

A One Way Street
Technology isn’t going to go away though. Without some disaster movie-worth electron pulse or other breakdown in civilisation we’re only to get more of this.

Google Glass opens another door, and that won’t be closed. “New Enterprise Associates is leading a $10 million Series A investment in APX (pronounced “apex”) Labs, which is helping businesses use wearable tech to boost worker productivity and safety,” says the Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line is that if it’s good for the bottom line businesses will use it. Most people are very happy about this too. While APX’s technology can help workers navigate a warehouse more quickly it can also help surgeons operate more effectively, and who’s against that?

Working Smart
The key then is to embrace technology where it helps you while avoiding the possible pitfalls. How to do that is a big question.

George Bradt, writing for Forbes, finds some good advice from Israeli CEO Yaacov Cohen. Cohen runs a tech company himself, but sees technology as an intrusive force that is making us less efficient. In the big picture, Cohen’s advice is to use technology first to enable communication. Next you should have a machine strategy: “Your technology choices must help you win where it matters. 

Having the most advanced knowledge is merely a fleeting advantage. Technological superiority is not in itself a strategy; it’s part of enabling a greater vision,” he says in Forbes. A machine posture will allow you to react more quickly you your customers and having a machine culture will stop you crossing the line where tech is your master not vice versa. 

Being an early adopter used to mean being ahead of the game, but now there is so much new technology that if you jump on every band wagon you’ll end up master of none. “Download them, use them, forget them. When it comes to apps, this seems to be a familiar pattern. When the novelty of the latest must have has died down, many apps get sent to the digital scrapheap,” warns In fact, the switch to smartphone and apps may be reducing the dangers of internet time wasting. Whereas the web – viewed from a desktop – is open, the world of the smartphone is more closed, content is mediated by apps. If you’re prone to embarking on a three-hour meander through YouTube or social media then you can shut things off at source on a smartphone by not allowing those apps onto your machine.

In reality, technology hasn’t invented these problems merely given them a new playground and, in some cases, a new scapegoat or excuse. If you’re prone to addictive behaviour or time-wasting it’s that that needs to be addressed, not the fact that Apple keeps releasing lovely new gadgets you can’t keep your hands off. Most of the problems of technology taking over our lives are old-fashioned – not enough discipline not to answer an email out of work hours, too much time spent on Facebook when you should be working – and demand old-fashioned solutions. Yes, there’s more information, more connectedness and more of everything which demands more strength and more discipline.   

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting. Comments with inappropriate content or spam will not be approved.