Does technology makes our lives easier?

Nope and here’s 10 ways technology actually makes our lives harder.

A while back, I wrote in Ad Age an article entitled; A Digital Myth: Technology Doesn’t Make Life Easier , http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=136533 where I explain that while technology makes tasks easier – it really does not make our lives easier. As an example, I compared the task of washing clothes in a machine versus a rock. Sure – a machine is far easier than a rock in the actual washing of the clothes. But if you add up all the other things that you need to do to make the machine work (the water infrastructure, the cost of repair, buying laundry detergent), we see that doing laundry via the trusty, highly reliable rock was far less complicated.

Since I wrote that article, I notice that the technology wars race are going as fiercely as ever, with techno-titans Google, Microsoft and Apple waging their epic battles for the heart and mind of Judy Consumer.

So, for a quiet moment, I wanted to share the 10 ways that technology most decidedly does not make our lives easier. I present this list, friends, knowing full well that I will be subjected to the inevitable backlashing  from tech fanboys. I have run afoul of them before – so gentlemen (I am being generous) – I’m ready — bring it on.

1) Harder to remember the everyday stuff of life.

This is a pet peeve which continues to drive me nuts because people don’t even try to remember the little mundane things of life anymore. With auto dial, auto login and “history” functions that tell you where you’ve been, our minds have devolved so that we can not easily remember these things.

I recognize we have more passwords, logins etc to remember than just 5 years ago but still – our ability for retaining simple little things seems gone. In the past, I made it point to know the phone number of my kid’s pediatrician and my immediate family. Now I don’t even know the cell phone number of my kids.

“Ok – what’s so bad about that?” you may ask. “Why waste those little grey cells on mundane memory tasks that our devices can do better and more conveniently?”  Good question – UNTIL you lose your phone or you have to change PCs – then you are in communications hell until you sort it all out.  My remedy is to force myself to recall key numbers.  As to the rest – oh well.

(Historical sidebar. Before the innovation of printing, our brains were capable of far greater acts of retaining information, as demonstrated by ancient Greek orators capacity to recite thousands of lines of poetry. Books, over time changed our biology so that our capacity to remember large quantity of information was diminished. So while I bemoan the loss of memory – I know it has happened before.)

2) Harder to keep your communications world “synced”.

I am going through this right now. I am working at a new company that is virtual. I now have 3 email accounts which are so cross forwarded to each other — it is a webmailtangle. I will figure it out but not without more pain that I think I should have to endure. I do not want to have to understand what POP or STMP or incoming or outgoing server configurations are.

And that just covers email! Now add the additional layers of IM, mobile, Google Voice, Blackberries, and all the identities we use to communicate in our social networks and you have communication complexity comparable to what a mid-sized company might have had 20 years ago.

It’s great that we are reachable 24/7 – but no one can seriously contend that all this connectivity makes our lives easier. In fact, it has become so complex, that new technologies are built to manage all these communications touchpoints.

Well that just about left “easy” in the dust.

3) Harder to dive deeply on any subject

A CEO I knew was very diligent about buying any book on marketing he thought would be useful. He himself never read any of them. Rather he had his people “summarize the book into key points”. I am sure if he read any of them, he may have gathered some insight that was lost on his people – but I understand the appeal of getting fed small info bits that are easy to snack on. So we take shortcuts. We scan text, we read extracts, we use twitter because 140 characters does not take long to absorb.

In fact, the attraction to digi-bytes has spawned new strategies in how to write as little as possible and still get the “a” message across. I am all for a Zen approach to content – simple and lean but it seems that content has become anorexic.

Business books tend to be written with very short telegraphic chapters with pithy titles like “The top 7 ways to [fill in the blank]…Try getting anyone to read an article that is more than a few paragraphs (and thanks to any of you who got this far on this decidedly non quick article).

Worse, far worse, I find myself getting impatient with writers who might, heavens, might take a few paragraphs to get to the point (the irony of this is not lost on me). The glorious joy of reading something with depth and substance seems to be on the endangered list.

4) Harder to be efficient

I think no one can deny that technology allows us do more things, usually at the same time. Talk, IM, tweet, web browse – all while driving (OK kidding- sorta).

My point is that new studies reveal that multitasking ain’t all it was cracked up to be.  Here’s an article from Wired that makes the point well; http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/08/multitasking/ (I write this as I have music blaring in my ear and I am IMing with two different colleagues. I notice how my typing deteriorates in direct relation to how many tasks I am trying to do at the same. It is not a pretty picture.)

5) Harder to get face time

Any parent out there knows what I am talking about here. Even Whoopi Goldberg observed (in a TV special) that while our children are smarter than we are, we are raising a generation of “barbarians”; children who are proficient tweeters, and IM’ers but who have too little interaction with real people in the real world. They seem almost out of place in the real world.  I am convinced that in 20 years, the lack of face time will have repercussions as these techno-savvy but socially naive children start having children of their own. Technology will take center stage in the training of their children. That can’t be good.

But it doesn’t stop there. In the business world, lack of face time has real costs today. Leaders spend less and less face time with their people often using cryptically crafted emails tapped out on a Blackberry’s to give complex instructions. That leaves a lot to the imagination – again – not always a good thing.

6) Harder to learn appreciation

I remember a few years ago I bought a traveling DVD/ TV player for the car (my kids were at the irritable age when car trips were tedious). Anyway, this device had wireless earphones, wireless controls with a luxurious 12” screen and detachable speakers. I was loving it. So much technology in such a compact, tidy device.

My kids were rather underwhelmed. For them, it was a convenience not in any way deserving of the reverence that I seemed to bestow on the thing. It takes A LOT to impress my teenage kids. It takes a lot to impress any teenager nowadays. What happens when they hit 30?  I guess to get a gee-whiz out of them might require a trip to the moon. And even then I wonder….

7) Harder to be loyal

Today, loyalty seems to be a quaint, sentimental notion that seems old fashioned. There is scant loyalty to be seen in relationship, jobs, brands, technology, geography.

We are comfortable meeting our “soul mate” online and with the powers of technology there are probably a few candidates who qualify. We are easily seduced to change brands with the scantest of promises. We don’t even remain loyalty to people within our newly created social networks bouncing from one network to another as easily as one changes a password.

Loyalty is out of fashion because maybe it is not really expected anymore; so much is so replaceable so easily. I miss loyalty in others and I make it point to practice it as actively as I can. In fact, people are often surprised at the loyalty I show to previous employers. From their perspective, it is so unexpected and unnecessary. I show loyalty as a way to express my gratitude to employers who enriched my career. It seems very necessary to me.

8 ) Harder to stay current and actually find the information you need

If anyone asks me why Twitter took off, I’d say it is because it gives people who want to stay current a convenient way to do so. That about sums it up for me.

Yet despite all the digi-byte ways we can get information, staying up to date seems to be getting harder. First to explore any subject online, you have to wade through digital stacks of garbage data. You have make decisions about what to information to trust or not. It sometimes feels like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Then, once you have to figured out what information is worth keeping, you have to spend a heck of a lot of time connecting the dots because as we said in point 3, no one writes meaty articles much anymore. It feels more like a scavenger hunt where one gathers little info bits and then from these obtuse clues we hope it adds up to something substantial.

Staying current was something that always required a certain dedication and investment of time. It seems now though the sheer deluge of data (good and bad) makes this so much harder on everyone.

9) Harder to gain perspective

Context makes all the difference when you are trying to understand the truth of a topic or controversy. That is becoming more and more of a challenge because of the difficulty of vetting trustworthy information. It is harder to know which person has the credentials to back up information they disperse.

Yep, gaining perspective through online information can be like making your way through a maze – fraught with dead ends and frustrating misdirection. Someone should come up with a GPS system for data navigation. I would buy that in a heartbeat.

10) Harder to establish trust – the online kind

This should come as no surprise to anyone. In the beginning, before social media became such a dominant marketing tool, customer reviews had power to influence, people you knew were trying to friend you and online connectivity was a joy because it could help you stay connected on a global scale.

But with the commercialization of social media, one consequence has been that trust has plummeted. A recent Ad Age article ; In Age of Friending, Consumers Trust Their Friends Less, explains that; “Only 25% of People Find Peers Credible, Flying in Face of Social-Media Wisdom” according to an Edelman study http://adage.com/article?article_id=141972. Simply, trust diminishes in direct proportion to the growth of social networks because it is hard to authenticate the identity of people online. This trust gap makes many online interactions harder to conduct.

To sum up, lest I leave you with the wrong impression — the upside of all this technology is amazing – in every respect. But it comes at a price that is perhaps more dear than first realized. So I advocate a new techno consciousness that doesn’t fall for the promise that “technology makes our lives easier”.

At least not on my watch.

Judy Shapiro

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9 Responses

  1. This list is priceless and true. My favorite … #7. tx

  2. Really good insights Judy!
    (I read it all the way through…:-)
    At first I didn’t agree but gradually I had the AHA experience. I have to be careful not to getting entrenched in new tech. How do you handle this?

  3. Hi Peter –

    How do I handle the techno-lanche? Well, I establish a somewhat arbitrary techno line. For instance, I refuse (at least for now) to get a Blackberry-like object. I know that may seem out of step but I even wrote a post here on this subject called; “Blackberry my line in the sand” (from September 2009).

    But here’s another secret – I “come off the grid” one day a week. I am a Sabbath observer and for one glorious day a week – no phone, PC, cellular, car, email, movies, DVD or any other digital related stuff. No kidding. It is incredibly liberating…

    Thanks for reading what is probably one of longest blog posts on the planet.

    Well done to you :)

    Judy

  4. I started following your web logs for 2 weeks now and i should say you never fail to bring a unique view. This post on tech making our lives harder is a good example — one that I have not seen before. thanks.

  5. funny article. brought a smile to my face. LB

  6. It’s like you’ve been reading my mind. Some of the points you bring up I’ve been discussing with my teenager. Last year at a high school basketball game I saw four girls sitting next to each other. Looking down at their phones not watching the game or talking to each other. Is this social interaction? The face to face time I think is the most important issue. You can pick up a lot of clues by watching facial expression or body positions. My son says that they’ll get better at that when video chat becomes mainstream.

  7. Super article.

  8. This is true information, good job

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