Texting and Common Sense

I had written a post some time ago entitled Determining When Technology Hurts that caused quite a stir. Some people accused me of being anti-technology (a luddite, which is actually a misnomer because the Luddites weren’t anti-technology either). If you read the post again, you’ll find that I’m actually pro-technology, I simply espouse common sense when using it. Using the right technology at the right time is an essential component of using technology responsibly and gaining the maximum benefit from it.

When I read about people doing all sorts of weird things while trying to text, the only thing that comes to mind is that they really need to reconsider their use of the technology. Obviously, it doesn’t work to text and drive at the same time, yet people continue to do it. The latest nonsensical use of technology that I read is about people who insist on texting 911, rather than call. It turns out that most 911 call centers aren’t equipped to handle texting, so texting doesn’t produce a useful result.

However, the problem is more subtle than simply not reaching 911 when you really need the service. After having had to call 911 several times to help my wife as a caregiver, I’ve learned that the officer responding to the call often needs more information. A text can’t provide this information, but a call can. The officer can request additional information that can make the difference between saving and losing a life.

The FCC has mandated that 911 centers do indeed implement a texting interface, but has no power to enforce it. The main reason for the texting interface is to address accessibility concerns for people who truly can’t call 911. It’s not meant as a method for perfectly able bodied people to text instead of calling. The truth is that even with a text interface, 911 works better with a call simply because a call allows for complete communication that is usually faster than texting will allow.

When working with technology, it pays to think things through and use the appropriate technology for a particular need. Let me know your thoughts on texting 911 at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Social Media Overload?

Because of my involvement in the computer industry, I’m always interested in social, health, monetary, and other effects of using technology. As with any other tool (and technology is a kind of tool), it’s possible to misuse computers and the software that controls them. In this case, I’m talking about any sort of device with a chip inside, including tablets and smartphones. In fact, I’m even including your television and radio here. Every electronic device you own is a kind of tool. Think about it, the main reason to listen to radio is to help you relax or to inform you in some way. When people stop viewing technology as a tool and start viewing it as a requirement for living, the technology becomes a crutch and the person becomes addicted.

I read a post the other day by someone who is obviously addicted to her technology. I found the article, “Social Media Overload” enlightening because it presents a perspective of social media from someone who is younger than me and has likely grown up with the technology. The author talks about having thousands of online friends. Of course, my question is whether it’s possible to actually know anything substantial about thousands of people. There are only around 400 people in our small town and I admit to not knowing them all; actually knowing thousands of people seems quite impossible. In fact, it’s hard to know whether some of these people even exist or they’re the figment of someone’s imagination. Using social media in this way seems to favor quantity over quality, where the quality would be incredibly low.  It makes me wonder what has happened to the quality relationship of the past.

The part of the post that I found most interesting was the fact that she recommends providing a means to link all of the social media together so that you could view and update all of your information from a central location. The obvious problem seems to elude her—recognizing that the tool has taken over the master and that the master is now the slave of the tool. When you start having to think of ways to manage all of the tools in your inventory, rather than using those tools to perform useful work, the tools have become a problem. It really is time to clear away a bit of the junk so that you can become productive again. A better solution might be to reduce the number of social media in which she participates so that the tool again becomes a tool.

I do participate in social media. I’m currently on LinkedIn because it’s a professional network and I feel it’s a good way to get my resume out in public view. Sometimes I provide updates about my current projects. Otherwise, I really don’t see a good reason to use social media when personal contact is so much better. You have to ask yourself whether you’re in charge of your social media or whether the social media is in charge of you.

Like any professional, I put my tools away on occasion and go on vacation. It’s important to rest from your labors so that you can better enjoy them when you do work. I’ve written about my philosophy toward computing in Learning to Unplug. However, it’s important to think about how other professionals use tools when thinking about social media or anything else to do with computers for that matter. Can you imagine a surgeon taking scalpels and performing impromptu surgeries while on vacation? What would you think of a carpenter who takes hammer and nails absolutely everywhere? After all, you never know when you might want to pound a nail or two. This is how I view people who are so addicted to their technology that they can never unplug from it. If you can’t put your technology aside long enough to rest, then you’re addicted and need to do something about it.

How do you view computing, especially when it comes to social media? Has your computing device (no matter what that device might be) come to rule over you? Let me know your thoughts on digital addiction at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Technology Addiction

Whether a tool is an asset or a hindrance often hinges on how the tool is used. A recent Baseline slideshow added to my perception that addition really is becoming an issue with many technology users today. For example, the slideshow pointed out that 65 percent of iPhone users can’t get along without their iPhone, while only one percent said they can’t get along without Facebook. The issue from my perspective is that it should be possible to get by without either of these technologies for some period of time—they’re simply tools and not needs essential for life. How does a technology become so important that 65 percent of its users would feel some sort of withdrawal symptom without it?

The slides went on and I’ll spare you the crudity of some of the questions the author asked of the respondents. However, as you read through the slides, it becomes apparent that the respondents would willingly give up contact with loved ones in order to maintain a grip on their iPhone. There was one statistic that really got to me though. If you have personal business in the bathroom, please complete it before you call me. I’m more than happy to wait.

That this phenomenon truly is an addiction is no secret. A recent article in the Telegraph talks about students having withdrawal symptoms akin to drugs when denied access to their technology. The LA Times reported that technology addiction is more extreme than addictions to chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol. Even Web MD has gotten into the act and provided articles about the symptoms of technology addiction. Psychology Today recently provided an article that helps explain the underlying metal and physiological basis of the addition. My experiences with addiction tell me that it won’t be long and Americans will start seeing the rise of centers devoted to helping people overcome their technology addictions. At some point, people will be forced to do without their technology in order to save their lives. In fact, I’m already seeing articles such as the on The Guardian that describe how others have beat their technology addictions.

I’m often asked why I’m not using Twitter and Facebook (amongst other social media products). I do have a LinkedIn account that I visit it once every week or so, but I don’t devote a lot of time to it. In fact, I don’t carry a cellphone either and I perform all of my work using a desktop system. For many people, the lack of technology on my person is a bit puzzling. After all, I write about technology and I’m obviously familiar with it at a significant level. However, for me, computers are a tool and will remain so. I use my computer to write books, create applications, perform research, and do other sorts of useful work. However, when I’m done for the day, I gratefully shut my system down, turn off my office light, and close the office door. I go out and do something different for a while in order to actually enjoy my life. I’ve also written about how the technology is turned off during vacations—I really do need time to unwind.

The topic of just how much technology useful will take a long time to work out. The whole idea of a personal computer isn’t that old and the older systems weren’t user friendly. People haven’t had time to build up any sort of knowledge level about them. I imagine that the conversation about how much technology one can enjoy without becoming addicted will be a long one, with many professionals taking part. In the meantime, take time to enjoy life. Shut the cellphone off for a while. Better yet, just leave it at home. You really don’t need to be connected to the thing 24 hours a day.

What is your experience with technology addiction? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Determining When Technology Hurts

I’ve been talking with a friend recently about a disturbing trend that I’m witnessing. Technology has started hurting people, more than helping people, in a number of ways. Actually, it’s not the technology that’s at fault, but the misuse and abuse of that technology. One of my goals as an author is to expose people to various technologies in a way that helps them. This goal is one my major reasons for writing books like Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. It’s also the reason I’m constantly looking at how our society interacts with technology.

I’m sure that there is going to be some sort of course correction, but currently, our society has become addicted to technology in a way that harms everyone. You could be addicted to technology if you’ve ever experienced one of these symptoms:

 

  • You’re with friends, family, or acquaintances, but your attention is so focused on whatever technology you’re using at the moment that you lose all track of the conversation. It’s as if these other people aren’t even there.
  • You find yourself making excuses to spend just one more minute with your technology, rather than spend time with your family or friends.
  • In some cases, you forgo food, sleep, or some other necessity in order to spend more time with your technology.
  • Suddenly you have more electronic friends than physical friends.
  • You can’t remember the last time you turned all of your technology off, forgot about it, and spent the day doing anything else without worrying about it.
  • You’ve had some sort of accident or mishap because your technology got in the way.
  • Attempting even small tasks without your technology has suddenly become impossible.


Technology is meant to serve mankind, not the other way around. For example, I was quite excited to learn about the new exoskeleton technologies that I wrote about in my Exoskeletons Become Reality post. The idea that I’m able communicate with people across the world continues to amaze me. Seeing Mars through the eyes of the rovers is nothing short of spectacular. Knowing that someone is able to live by themselves, rather than in an institution, because of their computer sends shivers up my spine. These are all good uses of technology.

However, these good uses have become offset by some of the news I’ve been reading. For example, it has been several years now since scientists and doctors have begun raising concerns about texting being worse than drunk driving. What these various groups haven’t considered is that anything that distracts you while driving is bad. For example, radios now have so many gadgets that you can get quite engrossed trying to get what you want out of them. Except for turning the radio on or off, or perhaps changing the station, I now leave my hands off the radio unless I’m parked. The fact that I daily see cars weaving to and fro in front of me as the driver obviously plays with something in the front seat or on the dash board tells me that other people aren’t quite as able to turn off the urge to fiddle.

I know of more than a few people who are absolutely never disconnected from their technology. They actually exhibit addictive behavior when faced with even a short time away from their technology. It’s not just games, but every aspect of computer use. Some people who work in IT can’t turn off from their computer use even when on vacation—they take a computer with them. I’ve talked about this issue in my Learning to Unplug post.

I look for the situation to become far worse before it become better. This past Sunday I was listening to a show on the radio that talked about how banks would like to get rid of any use of physical money. You’d carry an electronic wallet in your smartphone and that wallet would provide access to all of your money. In short, even if you’d like to unplug, you can’t because now you depend on that smartphone for the basics in life. At some point, everyone will have to have smartphone simply to survive if the banks have their way.

Of course, why bother with a smartphone when you can embed the computer right into the human body? The science exists to do this now. All that has to happen is that people lose their wariness of embedded computer technology—just as they have with every other form of technology to come along. Part of the method for selling this technology will undoubtedly be the ability to control your computer with your mind.

Technology is currently embedded in humans to meet special needs. For example, if you have a pacemaker, it’s likely that the doctor can check up on its functionality using a wireless connection. However, even here, humans have found a way to abuse technology as explained in my An Update On Special Needs Device Hacking post. What has changed since then is that the entertainment industry has picked up on this sick idea. It’s my understanding that NCIS recently aired a show with someone dying of this very attack. Viewers probably thought is was the stuff of science fiction, but it’s actually science fact. You really can die when someone hacks into your pacemaker.

The implications of what these various groups are working are quite disturbing. As technology becomes more and more embodied within humans, the ability to be alone, ever, will be gone. Any thought you have will also be heard by someone else. There won’t be any privacy; any time to yourself. You’ll be trapped. It’s happening right now and everyone seems to be quite willing to rush toward it at breakneck speed.

The day could come when your ability to think for yourself will be challenged by the brainwaves injected by some implanted device. Theoretically, if the science goes far enough, the ability to even control your own body will be gone. Someone is probably thinking that I sound delusional or perhaps paranoid—I truly hope that none of the future technologies I’ve read about ever come into wide use.

In the meantime, the reality is that you probably could use a break from your technology. Take time to go outside and smell the flowers. Spend an afternoon with a physical friend discussing nothing more than the beautiful day or the last book you read. Go to a theater and watch a play or a movie with your technology left at home. Eat a meal in peace. Leave your smartphone at home whenever you can. Better yet, turn it off for a day or two. Unplug from the technology that has taken over your life and take time to live. You really do owe it to yourself.

 

Dealing with Digital Addiction

It may sound odd coming from a guy who has written 87 computer books and over 300 articles, but I think the world has a severe technology addiction that’s going to cause us significant woe at some point (assuming it hasn’t already). Obesity, people who think cable television is a basic necessity, the need to have a cell phone constantly attached to one’s ear, and all of the other negatives commonly associated with a digital addiction today are only the beginningthings will get worse. Don’t get me wrong, technology definitely has positive aspects and it has a role to fulfill in the modern world, but I think we’ve gone way too far (and I’m sure we’ll go further).

One of the best ways in which technology can help is to level the playing field for those with special needs. In fact, anyone who knows me knows that I have a very special place in my heart for those who have special needs and can be helped by technology used in a positive way. However, it’s often the technology developed for people with special needs that seems to hurt us the worst (think of the television remoteit mainly started as an accessibility aid).

I read a PC Magazine commentary by Lance Ulanoff this morning about digital addiction and a book that will help you with it. Most people don’t need a bookthey need a reason and a plan. You can’t combat anything that you’re not convinced you need to combat. Some people are incredibly happy being addicted to technologyI feel sad for them because they’re missing out. If you make your entire world revolve around technology, you’re likely missing out on real friends and relationships with family. You’re also missing out on a vast range of experiences that have nothing to do with technology. However, unless you see that you’re missing out on these things, nothing that I or anyone else says will convince you of anything. So, you need a reason to deal with a digital addition.

If you finally do come up with a good reason, you need a plan. When I gave up smoking years ago, I had to find a way to fill the vacuum. My way of dealing with the addiction is probably uniqueI bought some running clothes and a new pair of shoes. Every time I wanted a cigarette, I went for a run instead. For about a month, I actually ended up sleeping on the couch in my running clothes because it was easier than having to get dressed to address an urge in the middle of the night. After about six months I found I had lost 20 pounds and that I felt extremely good. So, something positive came out of getting rid of those cigarettes.

My own technology addiction came sometime after I left the Navy. It seemed as if my wife couldn’t pry me out of my office under any circumstance and that I couldn’t enjoy any activity that didn’t somehow involve my computer. I was constantly worried about missing somethingthat some event would happen and I wouldn’t be available to deal with it. (If this sounds at all familiar, you likely have a digital addiction too.) I’m not quite sure when it snuck up on me, but it did. As with my cigarette addiction, once I realized I had a problem (my weight skyrocketed and I felt terrible), I came up with a plan to deal with it. I started including daily walks in my regimen, spent time with my wife playing board games, going to shows instead of watching television, went on picnics, started working with wood, and took time to enjoy events at the park. My mother-in-law helped by getting us an annual pass to the zoo. All of these things are part of the plan that fills the void so technology doesn’t rule my life.

The battle to contribute in a positive way to the world and yet not let technology rule my life is ongoing. You’ve seen my posts on self-sufficiencythat’s part of the plan. I don’t carry a cell phone, don’t worry about the messages in my inbox or on my answering machine, and think about things other than writing. Twice a year I shut everything offthe computer doesn’t exist for that time intervalmy wife and I get reacquainted. As a result, I’m happier and healthier than I have been in many years. If you find that you can’t leave the technology at home, unplug, and not feel any remorse about doing it, then you have a digital addiction and I encourage you to find both a reason and a plan for dealing with it. Let me know your thoughts about digital addiction at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.