Inaccessibility has its advantages

I was attending a funeral recently, when, in the middle of the eulogy, the solemn event was rudely interrupted with a tinny, barely-recognizable version of Mozart. You guessed it – a cell phone. The owner of the offending device had the grace to look disgusted with himself – he made a big show of shaking his head sadly and turning the phone off (without answering, I might add). The damage, however, had been done. It was at that moment that I clearly remember thinking: This Has Gone Too Far.

I’m not actually knocking cell phones, I even own one. Okay, so it’s an analogue phone (stop laughing please) and no one has the number, including me. Well, all right, I have the number somewhere, I just don’t have it memorized. Cell phones are a very useful technology, but they are being abused to death. Even on the highways recently, I’ve noticed billboards that say “Drive now, talk later.” One day someone should do a study of how distracting billboards are to drivers, but that’s getting off topic.

E-mail is another wonderful technology that is starting to drive me up the wall. The numbers of unread messages highlighted in bold in my Inbox are enough to give me nightmares. Every time I go away from my desk for two minutes, there are more. I can never catch up, I can never feel truly efficient.

These tools are supposed to make life more convenient. I think, instead, it’s teaching everyone to expect instant gratification. Everyone needs an answer to everything, and they all want it now. Urgency becomes heightened, and stress in the workplace (and everywhere else, thanks to mobile devices) skyrockets.

People have become, to a certain extent, slaves to the very technology that is supposed them do their jobs. They maybe even fear it a little, not so much for what it has the potential to do, but for what will happen if they choose to ignore it. This is similar to the fear many of us had as children: that we would be chosen last; that we would be left behind. Being viewed as inaccessible in today’s corporate society, where everything needs to be dealt with yesterday, is the worst possible fate for many of us.

But how much of this accessibility is an illusion? Sure, the odds of phoning someone and getting a busy signal these days are not very good, but how often do you actually get a live person? E-mail is great, but how do we know what we send is actually being read? Often it seems that all these tools of convenience and efficiency are actually causing us to run in circles. Not to mention the rudeness factor of cell phones interrupting every possible occasion.

I’m not saying things were better before the digital age. And I’m certainly not knocking technology – it’s here to stay, and I think that’s a good thing. But it’s important to remember that it’s still up to us how we use it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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