08 Dec More electronic gadgets, more miscommunication
Attention gadget guys and girls – this is your time. The shops are loaded with electronic communications gizmos of all kinds this holiday season. But when it comes to the value of these devices opinion is increasingly split. Many people either love them or loathe them. I guess I fall into the latter category.
Of course I use a computer; I’m not a total Luddite (although when I read the Unabomber’s manifesto several years ago a few of his rants against technology almost made sense to me). But I worry about the effects of over proliferation of electronic communications devices and tools.
Cell phones for instance, are often useful (even a Godsend as mine was the last time my car broke down), but they can be a nuisance as well. I still get slightly unnerved whenever I see someone walking through the airport speaking through a tiny mike and earpiece which isn’t visible from a distance. Staring into space, spewing out what sounds like gibberish – I can’t help feeling these people belong in a straitjacket.
And have you seen the new hands-free mobile headsets that hook over your ear? These things look like a hearing aid on steroids. I was recently in an all-day meeting in which one of the attendees (the most senior executive in the room) wore one of these hideous devices the entire time. He no doubt thought he was being cool – to me he looked like the leader singer of Devo.
Then there’s Instant Messaging (IM) – one of the most disruptive inventions to come along since the doorbell. My 12-year old son hates me because I won’t let him get an IM screen name. In some circles this is considered child abuse but I don’t care. That annoying message alert sound drives me batty. And the last thing any kid living in the good-old-U.S. of A.D.D needs is yet another distraction.
The Blackberry or “Crackberry” as its nickname suggests is a dangerously addictive toy. I take the same attitude toward this device as I do heroin – I don’t need to try it to know it’s bad for me.
Even P.O.T.S. (plain old telephone service for you tech-speak-challenged people) can be a royal pain in my opinion. I drive my wife crazy because I often let the phone ring instead of answering it. My attitude is the caller will leave me a voice mail if it’s really important.
By now you’re probably thinking this guy isn’t just a technophobe he’s outright antisocial. But I’m really not a misanthrope – it just seems to me that electronic gadgets and tools too often get in the way of communication instead of improving it. Take cell phones for example. How many times have you been in Starbucks and seen someone chattering away on their cell phone while sitting next to a companion sipping a drink? Not long ago I was in a coffee bar at the Heathrow Airport and noticed at least half-a-dozen different tables at which one person was talking on the phone while the other was doing something else. What a terrific opportunity for a nice little old-fashioned face-to-face chat with a friend or colleague but it’s ruined by that darned phone!
Since then I’ve observed the same thing happening in other places – I’ve even encountered a few nut cases conducting calls while in the restroom. This is taking multi-tasking one step too far if you ask me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against electronic communication per se. It’s just that I prefer talking and listening face-to-face. Like whole milk or fresh baked bread, there is no substitute for the real thing in my opinion. And face-to-face communication in business is more important than ever. With the technology we have today, many workers need not ever meet in person. They can perform all their work in an electronically-enabled cocoon – virtually connected to everything and everyone, but physically isolated. Without some in-person contact, workers miss out on an important and deep human need that would no doubt affect their performance.
Electronically-induced isolation can even happen among workers located in the same physical location. An article in USA Today describes how e-mail is inhibiting collaboration among workers and the steps that some companies are taking to address this problem. Corporations like U.S. Cellular, Veritas Software, and Radio Shack (all ironically in the electronic communication, tools and gadget businesses) have instituted ‘e-mail free Fridays’ to combat this problem. None of their employees are allowed to use e-mail when communicating with each other on this one day of the week.
Is this what pervasive communications technology is leading to? Rather than connecting people, is it instead becoming a barrier to meaningful interaction and an alienating force in the workplace? I certainly hope not.
But just to make sure, next time you want to communicate with a colleague – don’t e-mail or IM them. Take them to Starbucks instead. Leave the cell phone and Blackberry at your desk. When you get there, take a deep breath, order a decaf and relax and savor the conversation.
Tony DiRomualdo is a business researcher, writer, and advisor with Next Generation Consulting. He works at the intersection of people, business strategy, and information technology to help companies create a committed and high performance workforce. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.