My Toastmasters speech on reducing technology stress friend Ronnie Apteker published a book 1999 called “Do you love IT in the morning?” and this was a great play on words because it could imply “it” as in perhaps sex or “IT” as in “Information Technology.” Sadly this book is now out of print and I remember picking up over 50 copies a few years ago for R5 each when CNA was clearing their old stock.

Anyway his central theme was called the progress paradox. What that means is the more technology we invent, the better it becomes, the more it supposedly improves our lives, and yet we find we have less time to do things than we’ve ever had before. Professor Barry Schwartz also confirmed this in his 2005 book, The Paradox of Choice.

Why am I reminding you of something you so inherently know to be true? Because I would like you to join me in my campaign called “Switch IT Off” – which advocates ONE, just ONE Technology FREE day per week. And I’m very, very serious when I mean that you switch off ALL technology that is based on computers from your cellphones, your iPod, your PC, your laptop and maybe even your television and your hifi. Perhaps you can imagine being on a camping trip for that one day where you only have access to the bare necessities.

In case you find this difficult and secretly suffer from an addiction to technology here’s my solution:

The 12-STEP programme to reducing Technology Stress:

  1. I admit I am powerless over my cellphones and without it my life becomes unmanageable.
  2. I believe that only a Power greater than Eskom could restore my sanity.
  3. I made a decision to turn my backups over to the care of Google.
  4. I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of downloaded TV shows.
  5. I admitted to myself and others the exact nature of my mp3 collection.
  6. I have Microsoft remove all these defects in my character.
  7. I humbly asked Bill Gates to remove my shortcomings.
  8. I made a list of all persons spammed, and I became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. I made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. I continue to take personal inventory and when I was wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. I sought through meditation to improve my conscious contact with Google, praying for knowledge for me and the power to carry that out.
  12. I am having an spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, an I forward this message to all my friends to practice these principles in all my affairs.

On a more serious note, research from the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2005 found that cellphones increasingly blurs the line between family time and work time for both men and women. So what typically happens is that work related stress spills over into family time and the opposite is also true for women, where family problems spill over into work time. This decreased family satisfaction and increased stress over a two-year period. The researchers said that as the use of cell phones becomes increasingly prevalent, the line between family and work life will continue to blur.

You know in life your parents likely taught you how to cross the road by looking left, right and left again. But think about it, nobody teaches us how to cross the information superhighway. This 12-step programme is my way to bring order to the chaos, and helping your choose between the ONE (True/Yes) and the ZERO (No/False). So which one will it be?


The Attention Age Doctrine

This is a speech I gave last night for my Toastmasters club

I only had my first girlfriend when I got to university, after high school. So I was a bit of slow starter back then. Every weekend I would rely on my best friend and neighbour to give me a lift to and from her because she lived in another city and his girlfriend lived there as well. So it almost became like a ritual that after he picked me up we would stop off at a garage shop and buy snacks and cool drinks. So while driving at 120 km/hour he held his cigarette in his right hand, conveniently close to the window for fresh air, controlled the steering wheel with the same hand. In between his legs he would keep his can of Coke and take the occasion sip. With his left hand he would change gears and every now and then grab some Niknaks or Simba chips. Now in retrospect this was in fact a very dangerous and stupid thing for him to do. This is taking multitasking to the the extreme.

Thank God cellphones were not widely in use back then.

The word multitasking comes from the computer industry and is now considered a vital part of our everyday lexicon. The idea is simple – you do multiple things at the same time. For example you may iron while watching tv or drive you car while listing to a news broadcast on radio. It turns out that of multitasking does not increase our productivity. In 2001 CNN reported a study by researchers Rubinstein and Meyer that found “time costs” increased with the complexity of the chores: It took longer, say, for subjects to switch between more complicated tasks. Every time you switch tasks you loose between 20% and 40% of the potential efficiency. An example quoted was when you write a report and your phone rings – you experience temporary writer’s block when you have switch back into the mode of writing the report.

The science author James Gleick wrote a whole book about the acceleration of just about everything called Faster. However, the most vivid description of this problem we’re facing comes from Professor Barry Schwartz, author of the Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. The basic premise in his book is this: In the affluent Western world we have a greater selection, and a greater amount of choice than ever before in the history of mankind. The ability to choose is directly linked with concepts like freedom of speech and democracy. Nevertheless, we are more dissatisfied with our choices than ever before. So in economic terms we are experiencing a substantial increase in what’s called opportunity costs. And often we find ourselves paralysed when having to make choices. One examples from his book is where a study was performed in selling jam to customers. While presented with 30 flavours of jam at a gourmet store it attracted more interested parties who wants to sample the jam. When presented with only 6 flavours of jam, it attracted less people but increased sales. So there is a paradox is offering to much choice.

Rich Shefren, an online business coach, in his free ebook, the Attention Age Doctrine highlights the facts that we have now entered and era where Attention has become the most valuable resource. So how do you begin to reclaim your attention? Switch off your television, radio, computer and cellphone and give yourself a mental break. One final thought on this subject. In 2005, Glenn Wilson, Psychologist at King’s College in London, gave a group an IQ test who were to do nothing but take the test. He then gave them the same test while being distracted by emails and phone calls. Even though they were told to ignore these interruptions, the volunteers average IQ dropped by 10 points while being distracted. This is more than twice the effect of marijuana in a similar study.