Is Technology Your Good Angel or the Bad Angel on Your Shoulder?

I am a PC.  But last week I became the proud new owner of an iPad.  I love everything about it.  It’s sleek, it’s powerful, it confounds me, and it seems to me like it is perpetually on.  (Coming from the world of endless boot-ups and reboots, a tap of a button to turn on the machine seems impossible.)  Now, I don’t think I’m going to cross the line to being an exclusive Mac user anytime soon, but this little juncture is an interesting experiment for me in the juncture of efficiency (accomplishing a job with minimum time and effort, or doing things right) and effectiveness (producing the desired result, or doing the right things).

Of course, I’m hoping over time that my iPad will help me do both.  But right now, I know without a doubt that acquiring this piece of technology has slowed everything down in my life. My learning curve is straight up.  I’m in the age group where I have to actually spend time learning how to use technology.  We’re called Digital Immigrants according to Gina Schreck, a noted communications and tech expert.  Younger folks than me grew up with this stuff and spend less time assimilating how to use today’s technology, and she calls them Digital Natives.  But no matter which group you are in, one thing is for sure.  These machines have way more computing capacity than our brains and our finite 24 hours.

Remember those old Bugs Bunny cartoons with the Good Angel on one shoulder and the Bad Angel (or Devil) on the other shoulder?  I feel like I’ve got this pair watching over me right now.  Should I spend time learning a new program on my wireless device, or should I just grab a pen and paper?  Should I research something I’ve been meaning to take care of in the 2 minutes my daughter is on the potty, or should I give her my full attention?  Should I research news “apps” to see which one might work best, or should I always chose or buy the one that has the highest ratings, because other people have already made a judgement?

This isn’t a new problem, of course.  Since the boom of the PC Age, about 20 years ago, people have been trying to find the appropriate new rules and norms for how we use technology.  Here are just a few of the rules that I’ve made for myself.  The rules themselves aren’t necessarily important.  What may be more important is that you find a way to make your Good Angel happy and your Bad Angel pipe down.

1.  Don’t be an early adopter.  You’ll spend more time figuring stuff out, more money on buggy gear, and more energy that you could be using on real relationships with real, live people.

2.  Ask for help.  Tech help is offered for free in many cases, especially for new purchases.  But even if not, paying for help might be worth it.  In my experience, service contracts on household appliances, cars, and other mechanical devices are not a good investment; in fact most times they don’t offer positive ROI, which is why the companies offering them can make money.  However, if you are a Digital Immigrant (read: over 40), paying for a direct line or excellent service for someone to help you over the learning curve is a good investment in many (not all) cases.

3.  You gotta sleep.  I commented last night that I feel like my iPad is our household’s new “kitten”.  I check it constantly.  I research it.  I wonder if I’m loading it with the right stuff .  I wonder how best to socialize it.  And I’m dreading those first trips to the doctor and how much they might cost.  But whether it is a new kitten or iPad, you need to take care of you.  Sleep, and try again tomorrow.

4.  People over things.  Sometimes it is easy to get sidetracked by this one.  For instance, last week when I was loading a patient into the ambulance (I volunteer as an EMT), she was on the phone to her parents.  I had to ask her to hang up so we could treat her.  This has almost become the normal course that we see.  Just because you have the technology to call home right that minute doesn’t mean that you should.  When I taught customer service classes years ago, I instructed customer service reps to take care of people who walk in the door first, before they handle people on the phone.  Why?  Because the person in your store is THERE, and they made the effort to be there.  The person who is on the phone can do something else while they are waiting.  So chose people over things/technology, and chose real people (or people who are physically with you) over virtual people (or people who you can connect with later).   It will usually get you the best results in life.

There, my Good Angel is smiling.

Digital Natives, are you listening?