Archives for category: Commentary

Imagine a work day where your smart phone keeps standard work hours — turns on when you begin working and off it goes as you head home for the evening. Volkswagen did more than just imagine this when its German operation recently adopted a policy that turns on its email servers a half hour before the work day begins and turns it off a half-hour after the day ends (policy applies to all non-managerial blackberry users).

According to an article in Wired magazine online, Volkswagen’s intention is improve worker well-being by promoting a work culture where people should not be expected to work or be reached at all hours of the day. AMEN!

Blackberries, iPhones and their smart phone competitors keep us constantly wired, so the difference between work and play is increasingly blurred.

It has become widely accepted that for a telemarketer to call during dinner-time or at night is intrusive, if not illegal in some places, so why not a similar sentiment toward a client or co-worker that can’t wait until the morning to send a message? The task at hand probably won’t get done any sooner because we are aware of it at 11 P.M. instead of 8 A.M. the next day. The world will also likely not come to an end because we are not available to answer messages at all hours of the night.

I would venture to call the Volkswagen decision revolutionary by US standards, yet in uber efficient Germany, it is possible? The policy indicates a sensitivity to worker quality of life in a digital world that should really be present in some form in every company.

I’m sure much of the counter argument revolves around how this stunts productivity, but does it really? There are endless studies that show how workers waste at least 25-30% of their time at work messing around on the Internet for personal reasons anyway. Why not make the work day more efficient and our off-hours genuinely preserved for leisure?

So at the end of the work day, what’s more important? Reading emails during dinner or spending time with your kids? Answering questions on a Blackberry that can wait until the morning or taking a jog, cooking a proper meal, watching a movie with a friend? It seems like the answer should be pretty obvious for the non-workaholics out there, but then again, not everyone loves to log off!

Logging out now…

For those out there with exploding inboxes taking up way too much of your time, check out TED’s Chris Anderson’s Email Charter. I don’t agree with everything written there or the overall concept of such curt email etiquette, but I certainly agree with #10:

10. Disconnect!
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.

For the jet-setting types running organizations and toting a smart phone into the toilet just to clean out their inbox, the Email Charter probably has worthy application.

The prevailing idea is that shorter, direct, more thoughtful emails are more efficient and easier to respond to. Anderson makes a great reference to Mark Twain in this Fast Company article about the charter: Twain once apologized in a letter, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Then again, maybe the charter is simply a way to excuse big bosses like Mr. Anderson for being jerks in their emails by writing next to nothing in response or nothing at all.

A few other pointers that weren’t included in the Charter are unsubscribing from useless newsletters, using tools like Google’s Priority Inbox to sort mail more efficiently, turning email off on vacation, or how about throwing that smart phone in the garbage disposal!

In any case, less time using e-mail can only be a good thing, so take a look at the Charter and apply what works for you — and add my #11 to the list, “be kind and courteous even if it takes an extra four seconds.”

Logging out now…

A recent interview in Fast Company with MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, author of the book “Alone Together” touches on some excellent points in regards to the role technology plays in our lives. Her book – with a telling title – talks about human relationships with technology in their private, social and professional lives.

Turkle’s interview inspired me to think once again about the whole philosophy of LogMeOut. There is no reason to shun technology for those that may question it’s negative influences on our lives, but rather a serious need to use it in the right places and balance its use with our non-technological selves.

Turkle says “I hate the metaphor of addiction: it implies we have to get it away, give it away, wean off. This is great stuff. It’s not heroin. It’s just something we need to learn to use when most appropriate, powerful, and in our best interest.”

Darn straight Ms. Turkle! It ain’t heroin that is for sure, though they don’t call it a “crackberry” for no reason. I think Turkle has it exactly right: where we falter is in failing to distinguish between good use and bad use of technology.

She says if you need to make a deal somewhere halfway across the globe like Abu Dhabi, there’s no reason that technology should not be used. But Turkle is against what she calls “a kind of technological promiscuity, where that technology, so perfect in [one] circumstance, is the technology you think is perfect for people to bring into a board meeting, when they need to be working on a problem together. In that case it’s not the technology of choice. They’re not physically present with the people they need to bond with and deeply connect with, and need to make very consequential decisions with.”

I sometimes find myself guilty of this very activity. Being so used to e-mailing across the globe, I often choose to e-mail people 40 or even 15 minutes away from me in an instance where the issue at hand would be more quickly resolved by speaking by telephone or meeting in person. E-mail trumps all, eh? Why is it? Because it’s easy? Fast? Free? The effort of face to face engagement is too tiring?

Turkle goes on to say she thinks “there are ways in which we’re constantly communicating and yet not making enough good connections, in a way that’s to our detriment, to the detriment of our families and to our business organizations.” Amen.

People can argue that Facebook and Twitter and all these things bring us closer together, but maybe all it does is connect us together. Being connected and being close are not the same thing.

Even the doctors agree. Turning off electronics might make you have a better day. Or so they say over at WebMD in the short advice article 10 Ways to Improve your Day in Just 5 Minutes.

#9 on the list states >>  Turn off your electronics. Just because we live in a wired world doesn’t mean you need to stay connected every minute of every single day. Staring at computer screens and electronics all day long can zap your energy and encourage inactivity. So log off your email, phones, and Internet (yes, social networking web sites count, too). This is especially important to allow you to unwind and relax before bed.

Couldn’t agree more. Interesting the part about logging off before going to bed. Not a bad tip to promise yourself at least a quiet hour just before hitting the hay. Made me realize I naturally adhere to an “after 8” rule where the computer is almost always off by 8 p.m. or earlier. That’s some sacred time there for reading, watching a movie, the late news, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog or just playing a game before hitting the hay.

The rest of the list was pretty good too, besides the making the bed bit. I’m not convinced fixing up the pillows will really improve my day all that much. But who would think to sniff a lemon when the going gets tough. The wise ol’ Japanese found that they have anti-inflammatory properties and may fight stress. Check out this post for a few thoughts about that.

Logging out now.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first to talk about cell phone etiquette issues, but there is a point where people cruise right past bad etiquette to complete ridiculousness and I can’t help but take notice. It’s probably defined right around that moment when you’re in the public bathroom listening to the person in the stall next to you talk to her best friend about last night’s debaucheries.

It’s one thing to utilize the necessary toilet time in the privacy of your own home in order to check email, browse the Web or play a round of electronic Yahtzee! – in fact not a bad idea at all – but a public restroom? Seriously?

If there is ever a right time to log out, it has got to be while relieving oneself  in public. And who really wants to be identified with the smell next door anyway?

I do understand the value of these little gadgets that keep us wired all the time and logged into the latest news, posts, emails, and whatever else determines us to be as up-to-date as possible, but there has got to be an instant where some people stop themselves from saying “Gee, I have to go to the bathroom, maybe NOW I’ll call up my mother while in the public restroom and talk about her cancer.”

The point: take a moment to rethink when, where and how that gadget of a cellphone demands time in your life and the time of strangers around you.

Do I need to even mention the risk of OOPS! that toilet just had your phone for lunch?!?

The people at cellphones.org seem to have nailed down the basics with their Cell Phone Etiquette chart.

Logging out now.

In a recent issue of the International Herald Tribune Magazine, a selection of some very smart people were recruited to have their say about “Too Much Information?”

A few spoke directly to what this blog is all about – embrace technology with some caution, use it with your brains and don’t overdo it. Good to know we’re in admirable company when we decide to question the overuse of computers and gadgets in our lives.

At the same time, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy called technology his “ally” and the founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson called it “liberating.”  The editor of Le Monde, Sylvie Kauffmann described it as more of a menace.

The English-Indian-American novelist, Pico Iyer asked why is it that all our tools of connection leave us feeling so frazzled, disconnected and alone?

The image comes to mind of millions of lonely people spending more time hooked up with a computer and cell phone than anything else.

Iyer writes further: “It’s only by stepping away from our machines, after all, that we can begin to see how best to make use of them. Technology has given use the world; it’s up to us to now see what we can and will bring to technology.”

By stepping away and detaching from our pods of technology we are just human again and free to think and wonder on our own.

So the smart people had their say and though not uniform in their feelings of course, the message to me was clear… thinking about technology and our role with it is an exercise that keeps us the independent thinking reasoning human beings that we are. Questioning how we use it and when we use it is far better than mindless texting, surfing and typing without ever a second thought.

In other words… step back to think about you and your relationship with your gadgets every once in awhile and of course, take the time to log off.

Logging off now.

It isn’t a stretch to assume that many of the people who want to limit their connectivity might be the same people who are concerned about privacy online as well. Part of what getting offline does is bring us back to who we are as people without a gadget in our hand or sitting before us. What lack of privacy online does is creates avenues for companies to influence who we are by picking out what music we might like or books we might want to read based on some computer algorithm. Feeling the need to log out could be related to wanting to log out of the person that Google or Facebook think you are.  

So when surfing the Internet recently I started noticing eerily pointed information about friends of mine liking this or that relative to the site I was visiting. I can’t say I’m really interested in what so-and-so who “friended” me on facebook that I haven’t spoken to since 1991 thinks about where I’m surfing the web and what I’m buying or reading online today.

How in the world did they get that information about who my facebook connections are and why are they telling me what they like? Sure enough, I was recently alerted to a mysterious setting that had been automatically enabled in my facebook Account.

It is a privacy setting that has been around since April of this year called “Instant Personalization” which shares data with non-Facebook websites and is automatically set to “enable.”

I guess I’ve been snoozing on this one, but slowly facebook has been adding more and more sites to its list of web sites it shares data with. Obviously among them ones that I have been using lately.

Ummm… excuse me, but Mr. CEO Zuckerberg at Facebook, please don’t go enabling things without asking me first. I’m sure your brilliant programming skills could have come up with a way to ask me before green lighting the whole lot of us to share info we don’t want to share!

Here are a few random links with more thoughts on the whole thing:
Facebook Must Make “Instant Personalization” Opt-In Immediately
Facebook Expands Instant Personalization with Rotten Tomatoes
Disable Facebook’s “Instant Personalization”

So, if like me, you missed the hullabaloo over this, here are directions to protect your privacy (not to mention individuality). I wonder if Google has similar settings where I can stop sharing the info I write in my e-mails?

Logging out now.

I promise this isn’t a plug for the new and unusual owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire businessman caught my attention in a rerun of 60 Minutes highlighting the high life of this playboy and his new NBA role stateside.

What was remarkable to me was what he said about computers. “I don’t use a computer. We have too much information and it’s really impossible to filter it.” His desk was a mess of papers with no piece of machinery in site. My kind of billionaire.

The New York Post reported he doesn’t have a cell phone and writes his own letters. Granted he probably pays people to use computers, dial phone numbers and brush his teeth for him… it still left an impression on me.

If a Russian billionaire in the 21st Century can be so “retro” and logged off (all the time), well then so can I (once in awhile). This is probably just about the only thing we have in common, but I’ll at least be taking his lead on this.

I promise when I become a billionaire, I will do the same.

Logging out now.

Apparently, a business dictionary would call someone like me a laggard. A what? Yes, a “laggard”: the minority group (roughly 16% of the population), which is the last group to try or adopt a new product. It consists largely of seniors, and those with low socioeconomic status. Laggards use friends and neighbors as information sources, dislike change, and accept new things only when forced to. Well, if that is my audience, so much for hoping this blog will be a success.

Oddly enough, I’m none of those things – not poor, not old, not opposed to change – in fact I love change and new things. So what’s the deal? People like me probably fall into a group just before that 16%: minority group that hates their cell phone and adopts new products because if they don’t they’re friends won’t contact them anymore.

I guess I move  just a little bit slower than the lot of you.

Logging out now…


Frustration!

I think it was when I was suckered into joining Facebook that I began to really feel like I needed to write down how I was feeling and express my frustration with too much technology, too many gadgets and too much computer in my life. The relentless push forward to go faster and faster and faster somehow triggers the feeling in me that I just need to slow down.

Facebook seems to have evolved into what was once the cell phone – where without it, social and professional lives can suffer. I guess even an e-mail invitation doesn’t suffice so much anymore, just post it on facebook. Sociologists might call me a “late adoptor” while its all those “early adoptors” that push the markets, demand and eventually people like me to adopt just to stay afloat. I’m not “tech-tarded,” as a friend of mine calls the technologically challenged, rather I’m just more interested in living in my environment, in the REAL world,  not through gadgets or whatever version of myself I create on the internet.

As a person who came of age along with the Internet, I’m no stranger to, nor a hater of the World Wide Web. But it does make me nuts sometimes. Watching CNN is no longer watching news … it’s watching reporters tell you every three seconds to check out their Twitter feed, join a Facebook group, submit a question, send a photo, etc. What’s with all the viewer engagement? How about engage me with super star reporting?

That said, seemingly with no choice anyway but to join the masses in at least some way, I figure it is still important to keep touch with our fellow humans through interaction, friendships, family relationships and a plethora of non-Internet activities (many activities of which I plan to pursue and report on to “keep it real” in this blog).  My intention is to encourage others to do the same, to log off and slow down.

Logging out now…