Under technology

Today, we have it all at our fingertips. Whether we’re looking for help with a Linux install, trying to remember the name of some movie starring a favourite actor or curious about the price of a stock, chances are what we’re looking for is just a few clicks away.

But the very technology that makes information so readily available also makes us readily available to others. And it seems just about everybody is in need of immediate assistance – making it difficult for many to concentrate on one task for very long before they are e-mailed, paged, faxed, sent an instant message, phoned on a cell phones or left a voice mail. For many, the number of e-mail and voice mail messages they have to deal with on a daily basis can easily exceed 100, leaving very little time for downtime.

In fact, some say having it all at our fingertips comes at the price of being under technology’s thumb.

freedom to choose

For Shahla Aly, however, the ability to always stay connected is empowering. The vice-president of telecommunications and wireless at IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., believes that today’s information technology gives her the ability to spend more time with her children and the flexibility to work wherever and whenever she wants.

When her mother was recently in the hospital, she was able to wait in the lobby and work while she waited. She could attend to both her work and personal concerns at the same time without feeling she was neglecting either.

“I can be connected to the office and still be balancing my personal life, and that’s the biggest reward all of the technology has given me,” Aly said. “The ability to have all these devices to access information also gives the ability to manage my life better.”

Now, Aly is no longer tied to her desk at the office. Ten years ago, if she was expecting an important phone call, she would have to wait in her office for a phone to ring and would be unable to make other plans during that time. Now, she can take that important call from wherever she happens to be.

It’s a “feeling of huge flexibility.”

The technology also means that she can spend more time at home and with her kids. “Before, and I go back 10 years, if I needed to do work…the only way to do it was coming back to work after getting the kids off to bed. I had to come here, it’s where the computer was, it’s where connection was, it’s where the material was.”

Now, she can leave the office at 5 p.m. and take her work with her, and she uses her dead time to keep on top of the over-100 messages she gets daily. When she’s waiting in line with her kids at Disney World, waiting in a doctor’s office or waiting on the Web for a page to download, she uses that time to deal with her e-mail or voice mail messages.

“What that allows me to do is also never be away from home. I can intermix and balance my work life and my personal life. When I’m at work, my kids can still contact me,” Aly said.

She can also work more efficiently today. A few years ago, preparing for a customer call meant having others help her gather information well ahead of time. Now, she can go on-line at midnight to prepare for a morning call.

“I find we have available to us a richness of information we never had before. Five years ago, you didn’t have access to knowledge and info you do now.

“I can reach the information at my convenience, and have me control it rather than the other way around,” Aly said.

She feels that she’s in control because she can turn off the technology whenever she wants.

Michael LeBlanc, the director of marketing at hbc.com in Toronto, also finds technology works to his advantage.

“I’m a technology fan – it allows me to do more. Of course, sometimes you get a little overwhelmed. That happens to everyone.”

LeBlanc carries a BlackBerry device, a WAP-enabled phone, another smaller phone and a Visor, which allows him to make use of dead time he has during the day. If he’s in an elevator or standing in line, he’s taking advantage of the time to clear out some of his messages. He adds that even if he didn’t have his BlackBerry he’d still be using that dead time to do something else, such as read the newspaper.

spouses disagree

“One of my best techniques is Aly McBeal. My wife watches that Monday night. Monday night is my night to do my e-mails and do a lot of admin around my e-mails,” LeBlanc said.

But when he’s at home that time is usually devoted to his kids, LeBlanc said, though he still has his BlackBerry. “I don’t think it (the BlackBerry) interrupts in that time. My wife might disagree every now and then.”

And he adds that it’s a two-way street – not all the e-mails that he gets are work related. “My mother e-mails to my BlackBerry. My mother actually is my worse sender in terms of spamming me.”

Like Aly and LeBlanc, Ted Starkman also believes today’s communications technology offers him great advantages.

“I think it’s a much more efficient way to communicate. There’s no doubt it’s way faster,” said Starkman, vice-president of electronic commerce at The Shopping Channel.

He has no choice but to remain connected to the office. “It sounds clich