Tuesday, May 1, 2001

The double-edged sword of mobile technology


By Gil E. Gordon

We're living in the ultimate good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that we're fortunate enough to have a wealth of mobile-office technology (laptops, cell phones, pagers, and PDAs) that let us work just about anytime and anywhere. The bad news is that we have a wealth of mobile-office technology that let us work just about anytime and anywhere. As a result, the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives that used to exist have become blurred or, in some cases, have disappeared entirely.

"This won't be an anti-technology, neo-Luddite pitch..."

I deal with this topic at length in my book, TURN IT OFF: How to Unplug from the Anytime-Anywhere Office Without Disconnecting Your Career, available at http://www.turnitoff.com. In this article, I'd like to explore some of these themes as they relate to Palm devices in particular, but more generally, as they relate to the ways in which we're working and living today. Rest easy. This won't be an anti-technology, neo-Luddite pitch, and I'm not even hinting that we should drag all our battery-powered gadgets and gizmos to the cliff and throw them over to crash on the rocks below. If you're like me, that's a tempting thought at times. In reality, though, the problem isn't with the tools themselves, but with the ways in which we've let ourselves get accustomed to using them.

The double-edged sword of mobile technology

Consider the following dilemmas. We've become so accustomed to being in touch that it's now necessary for the obligatory, "turn off your cell phones and pagers, please," speech before movies, concerts, or plays begin. And there are at least two devices due to be marketed that will be designed to block, or at least reduce, the ringer volume of those devices in an enclosed area.

The parts of our days and weeks that used to be reserved--and preserved--for our own are often invaded. Aided by technology, our co-workers, managers, and clients can reach us at night, on the weekend, at the beach, on vacation, at our children's soccer games, and just about everywhere else, all in the name of results-driven access and availability.

The very same objective that drives this anytime, anywhere access--improved business performance--is jeopardized when people don't get a chance to recharge their mental batteries at night, over the weekend, or while on vacation. On the surface, it looks like we're making optimal use of our employees, but in reality, we're risking running them down and burning them out.