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Taking Control Of Your Technology Wed 24 Mar 10

Why going offline for a day isn't the answer.

Il Castello di San Gaudenzio I just returned from an extended business trip in Europe. While there, I had the opportunity to stay in some interesting hotels, including a renovated castle from the 15th century. The flashback in time gave me a jolting perspective on just how much technology has become part of our lives.

The castle was a reminder of how much simpler (and more difficult) life was back then. Later, while coming back through the international transfers at Heathrow, security decided to do a hand search of my briefcase.

Out came my laptop, followed by the wireless mouse, smart phone, USB flash drives, Web cam, digital camera, GPS, e-reader, noise-canceling headphones all with their associated cables and power adapters. As I stared down at the overflowing bin of gadgets, I was struck by the amount of personal technology we use and how much a part of our daily life it's become--not to mention understanding why my briefcase seemed so heavy.

Il Castello di San Gaudenzio interior Each of those devices has a useful purpose and each has made my daily tasks easier. Whether it is communicating with others, finding my way, solving problems or just relaxing with a good book, technology has made life easier.

In exchange for easing our tasks, however, technology has placed some demands of its own on us.

First, because the task is easier we now feel compelled to use technology more often. Back when there was only snail mail we might have expected to communicate once per week or daily at the most. When the telephone came, we could communicate at will. Now with e-mail, instant messaging and texting we are communicating almost continually.

Second, there is the care and feeding of all this technology. We face an endless stream of patches, updates and upgrades. Along with all this, we encounter compatibility issues and requirements for new hardware and software.

All of this leads us to question whether technology works for us or whether we work for technology. Some people have advocated going offline for 24 hours just to put the use of technology in perspective.

While doing this might help us realize just how much we use technology and appreciate the demands it puts on us, it doesn't do much in terms of controlling technology to utilize it most effectively. In the end, it is a balance between our work and personal lives and the demands of technology.

There are some things that we can do to more effectively use these technology tools. For example:

  • Turn off your incoming message alerts - Getting an alert, buzz or pop-up every time you receive an e-mail tempts you to stop what you are doing and answer the e-mail. Instead set a regular schedule to check messages and stick to it. It's all a question of prioritizing your time and controlling technology.
  • Don't get hypnotized by the shiny new stuff - There are always new devices and software programs coming out. Think carefully if you really need that new device or application. Will it really help you or just be another distraction and impose more demands on your attention?
  • If it ain't broke don't fix it - Deciding what to do about updates and upgrades is a little trickier. Updates for security purposes or to fix bugs should be installed. But upgrading to a new browser version, for example, is usually more about providing more functionality. While you don't want to get too far behind on the technology curve, you don't need to be on the "bleeding" edge either. If the current version meets your needs and is relatively current, you may be better off doing nothing.

Thinking back to the 15th century castle, the thought of a "simpler" life is enticing, but I'm happy to stick with today's modern technology. The key to all of this is to take control of your technology.

"Il Castello di San Gaudenzio" photos by Mike Schaffner / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

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