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Declaring independence from technology (sort of)

Last night, as I watched my brothers set off marginally legal fireworks, I was feeling a little guilty. I hadn’t checked e-mail since Sunday morning, and my mobile phone was powered off most of the weekend. Here it was, Fourth of July weekend, the mid-summer respite, and I felt anything but independent of my technologies.

Ignoring e-mail for 36 hours – even over a holiday weekend – comes with a penalty of sorting through an over-loaded inbox, sometimes with multiple messages from the same person expressing personal pique that I’m not responding. Leaving my mobile phone behind while spending a day among family risks alienating someone outside that circle.

At about the time my brothers and I were humming a very bad rendition of the 1812 Overture and watching the last of our sparklers fade, I felt pretty grumpy about technology. All this stuff that is supposed to make our lives easier just seems to complicate matters. I decided that this week's column would be a Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of technology. Besides being a cheap device to deride bad user interfaces, leaky security, unreliable operating environments and every species of low-life spammer or phisher, it would be, I thought, an opportunity to put technology in perspective.

By the dawn's early light, as I downloaded the weekend's e-mail and headed to the airport (and home), I am feeling no less bitter about the deluge of messages that will occupy my five-hour flight. However, I am much more sane about technology.

Interfaces need to improve, and security has to get better. Operating environments (and by extension, Microsoft) will take the blame long into the future for poor time- and file-management habits. But I realized it's the habit, not the technology, that is the tyrannical burden in our technology-rich lives. We've made technology the center point in our lives, the focus of work, the reason to be.
According to a recent survey on the cultural differences among leading nations toward computing, the vast majority of Americans said that if technology improvements allowed us to complete work faster, we would use the extra hours gained by the technology to do more work. More work!

We've fallen so much in love with technology – our e-mails, mobile phones and online applications (even routers and Wi-Fi hot spots) – that we forget sometimes that the purpose of all this technology is to make our lives better. It is supposed to relieve us of mundane tasks, so we can be more productive and have more free time to enjoy enriching pursuits.

We don't need to declare independence from technology. Rather, we need to embrace the independence that technology gives us. At the theoretical halfway point of summer – and with more on my agenda in the next four weeks than I'd care to tackle – I'm going to try to hold onto that idea – that technology gives us time and how we use that time is entirely up to us.

I hope I use the time to gain better perspective, because I think it will make me a better technology analyst in the long run (as well as a better person).

How will you use the time technology gives you?

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit:

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