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December 18, 2007

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MarkD

This is a theme I come back to again and again. It is my strong belief that the technology has failed us, not because it doesn't work, on the contrary, it works too well. When the electronic revolution began in the early 90s the promise was great. All of these new tools were going to make my life easier, they were going to free me to do the things I really wanted to do. So far, all the technology has managed to do is increase my work-load and increase the pressure in my daily life. I think you have hit the nail on the head here Scott. The problem isn''t so much the technology, as our reaction to it. Why do we feel the need to answer emails immediately? Why do we feel the need to always be connected? Is it a form of self-indulgence? Is it because we want to feel important? It does feed the ego doesn't it. I am so important that I must be connected constantly - someone out there somewhere may need my help, help that only I could provide.

A few years ago I read the biography of Theodore Roosevelt. What most struck me about the book was the fact that Teddy (while president) took the entire summer off. There were no special phones. He didn't even bring White House aides with him. He just took the summer off. There he was, a leader of an entire nation - yet he had the ability to be disconnected for two months. No phones (though they had been invented), no faxes, no emails, no blogs, nothing. And yet, the world went on. The country continued to function. Things got done. There he was, the most powerful man in the country, completely disconnected, not for hours, not for days or even weeks - but for an entire summer. And what did the government do in the case of an emergency? They dispatched an aide by rail out to Long Island when they needed him. If the nation could survive for months on end without the head of state - how come my company can't survive without me for a mere few hours? If your answer is; because times were different then, they didn't have the technology. Then you have indeed understood the point. We have allowed the technology to control us and not the other way around. Theoretically, in its early days, the technology's promise was that it would serve us, instead we serve it. I firmly believe that the bulk of the benefits of the new technology will not accrue to us at all. It will take a generation or two for society to learn how to mold the technology to fit our needs and accommodate a more healthy and rewarding lifestyle. At some point humanity will once again want to stop and think, maybe even take the summer off. Until then... I have to go, someone is text messaging me.

T Scott

Lynn and I don't answer our home telephone. We let the answering machine do that. If it's somebody we know (usually Marian or my Mom) they know that they're supposed to announce themselves and if we're home and it's convenient for us to talk with them, we'll pick up. When we started doing this a dozen years ago, some people who found out about it felt that we were being rude. That baffled me -- we're being rude and not the people who feel that they can impose their presence on us at any time just because they have our phone number? Amazing.

Same thing with my cell phone. If it rings and your name pops up, I'll answer it, if it is convenient for me. If I don't recognize the number, or if I'm otherwise occupied, I'll let it go into voice mail.

I think there's another element at work with email though -- it's often easier to let oneself be occupied with answering relatively unimportant emails than it would be to spend that time focusing on some difficult problem or project. So while we allow the technology to distract us, it's partly because we want to be distracted from doing things that would actually require more work and more thought.

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