Sunday, October 11, 2009

The perils of permanent connectivity

Anytime, Anywhere fast internet connectivity.
Finest to use handhelds.
Fantastic widgets, tools, devices.

It's a disease that afflicts many. Without their knowing about it, they slowly sink into it, step-by-step, silently, intellectually, and without a hope of stepping back. Finally, it takes control of their lives.

Yes, I am referring to the perils of permanent connectivity. The situation (convenience!) where a person can choose to be connected to the online world (and its many distractions) on an almost 24-hours-a-day basis.

Based on my experience, the standard tools that one invariably uses, to accomplish the desirable act of staying online smartly are -
  • emails - both professional and personal
  • blogs - can be both personal and professional
  • professional networking sites - linkedin / xing etc.
  • social networking sites - twitter, orkut, facebook etc.
  • video sharing sites - youtube etc.
Typically, a smart professional or a smart youngster will be doing these things online, on any regular day
  1. Checking his professional emails (multiple email IDs) several times a day
  2. Checking his personal emails (one or two mail IDs, depending on marital fidelity) once or twice a day at least
  3. Checking the various online social media sites at least once during working hours (it can be more than once too)
  4. Spending at least 1 to 2 hours every late evening "updating" the social media sites (after all, who wants to look inactive in happening places?)
Add all of this together, and bingo! You just invested close to 3 solid hours doing all this. Each day! But the story does not end here.

The result of this mindless, endless daily investment manifests itself in various ways.
  • The quality of individual interactions (that one is part of on a daily basis) drops substantially. After all, one cannot do justice both to an email crying for attention, and a colleague making a serious point sitting face-to-face.
  • The quality of time that one spends with family drops substantially. While wife is longing for a loving hug, the next scrap on Orkut steals your attention. When the child desperately wants a pat on the back and a kiss on the cheek after her shakily drawn sketch of nature is ready, you are busy clicking a photo (with brightness and contrast perfectly adjusted) rather than giving that kiss.
  • The intensity with which one is able to think and contemplate seriously (on various matters) drops a lot. Various online avatars are vying for your precious time, and the cerebral hemisphere can simply run out of juice at times!
  • The overall sense of fatigue increases a lot. It may be beyond many people's potential to do justice to so many avatars simultaneously.
  • Every morning you wake up, you feel sapped. Drained. Empty.
Personally, I know all this as I am doing all this intensely. On a typical working day, I check tens of emails, make and upload at least one serious blogpost, update entries and scraps on Orkut, Facbook and Twitter, and check out Linkedin and Xing. I must make a distinction here - for a technical person (which many of us now will profess to be, in order to escape the inevitability of what's coming next) some of these perils of permanent connectivity may be unavoidable. But for most of us (professionals) and almost all youngsters (not working), we can avoid a lot of these fancy habits safely. Friends, it is a myth that by being online you are automatically more productive. Most users (and surprisingly even old-timers) at times do not understand the difference between nonsensical scrapping (on Orkut) and sensible professional messaging.

As I have done it for a long time now, wasted a lot of time and resources, I have learnt my lessons well! Let me share these with you.

How to be significantly online, and still be highly productive
  1. Fix a time when you will check your social online media every day. If you are a working professional, it should ideally be in the night (at least an hour before you sleep). It is really a bad idea doing social media during working hours. If you are doing it, you are addicted. Seek help.
  2. Bundle together your activities on online social media in this one slot - try twitting, orkutting, facebooking simultaneously. It will be a good idea as you can cut-paste a lot of stuff, saving precious time.
  3. Fix a time interval between checking your emails every day - say 60 minutes at least. It will help you clearly focus on the task in the meantime.
  4. Avoid Blackberries if possible. They are a disease. I do not speak lightly on this - having observed many people who use this, I can safely conclude that the tremendously advanced design (user-friendly) of this manufacturer is so sticky, so terribly sticky... one just cannot de-addict once stuck. Then the spectacle of heads bowed, both hands together, thumbing away, head nodding... ad infinitum. I have so far successfully restricted myself to the humble Nokia Communicator, which with its archaic keypad scares me when it comes to typing anything beyond a few hundred characters. So I am forced to limit my use, thereby increasing the quality of my human interactions.
  5. When in a social setting, avoid using your gadgets. It is horribly irritating to others.
  6. Try observing a no-internet day once a week. It may be very tough, but try it once.
  7. Don't get into fancy technical stuff if you are not really good at it. It can suck precious energy out of your mind. It will, for no good reason, make you feel smaller and insignificant.
  8. Don't buy gadgets just because you cannot allow being seen as outdated. You may be smarter in not using the latest gizmos that dehumanise.
Remember, when it comes to human impact - nothing is as powerful as a face-to-face warm human interaction. Simple voice calls come next. Then come text messages and social media.

Unfortunately in the race to be the fastest, brightest and trendiest, we are losing a sense of the finest of arts - warm human touch.


sidgodha said...

Nice post sir....
It can be really helpful for those who are 'addict' to the Internet if they can manage their way out of the hole they are digging...
But I feel that sometimes full time connectivity is a must, especially for the engineers and the engineering students, because u never know the answers to your problems may already be posted somewhere...
Hence I too feel that the problem is not with full time connectivity, but with how you use it...

Akshay Kothari said...

Respected Sir,
Good morning.
Thanks for starting ignition of my brain again.
Internet has really made all of us its slave. No matter people what ever say about its use and importance but this generation is actually not using it that effectively. We are so much addicted of all these social networking sites like Orkut, Facebook etc that we don’t have that much guts to even stay away for a day from all this.
Minds automatically functions and our fingers automatically type, its feels like we don’t have any control on our senses.
We use yahoo messenger to chat with the world with such English usage that Shakespeare would have cried reading our conversations.
And there is no need to tell about Emails you have a great experience about how people compose them.
Reading scraps, posting scraps, uploading pictures, commenting on them, looking desperately who visited our profile, thinking how we have mutual friends, sending testimonials , reading others testimonials is that all really worth doing on a daily basis?
And if it is so then why we don’t talk to our parents for 15 minutes daily? Why we don’t have some comments to share with our family? Why we don’t read about company profiles? Why we don’t post our CVs to Companies? Why we don’t comment on balance sheets of companies and their performance? Why we don’t read some great articles given by great personalities?
Are these things not even worth doing one a week???
Proton Akshay

Unknown said...

Incidentally I saw this blog post through your twitter feed which I received on my Blackberry :)

You are right, its becoming an addiction and is not always required. Another little drawback which I personally face is that the mind is not able to think freely and whenever I need a little time for myself I see that red blinking light on my Blackberry ... wooof .. and off goes the focus.

Thanks for the post, I'll adhere to a few things myself. The only little thing that I'd disagree to though is your bit about Bberries. From what I have experienced, if your business is about emails and being in touch over them is important then BB is a must-have tool. It makes life so much simpler and if used judiciously can actually help you improve productivity thus giving you the ability to spend more quality time in other areas.

nipun said...

hello sir,
have just started following you on twitter and your blogs as well. m student of PT preparing for cat...
your blogs are really helpful to diversify our minds...
on dis post i too want to post something..
it is said that excess of everything is bad...
same aplies here also...just as you said,we should be limited accessing social networkin sites etc....
being a professional one may be forced to check his mails 3-4 times a day..otherwise surfing twice will be enough for personal matters..
moreover its all about self control..its posted above that one automatically types n one is focused on what he wants to do he will surely 1st complete his work then move to other things..

Mahesh said...

Very very true Sir, You are a great observer with wonderful thoughts :-)

Test said...

Sid - thanks for a relevant rejoinder. Yes, for engineering students, surely, the net can come in handy, but when? And how many times? We may try and control the extent, and restrict it to what's of genuine use to us. Cheers :-)

Akshay (Kothari) - good to read your detailed views. I am precisely trying to say this - we are somehow losing touch with human touchpoints which are more important than online touchpoints. Without assuming a supercilious and patronising pov, this seems to be actually the case with many.

Akshay - thanks for reading my tweets on your blackberry and then reaching my blog :-)) As we discussed, in this shared online world, everything is literally connected. So a big choice for all of us.. Regarding Blackberries, I totally agree with you in terms of timely access to emails (since push email is quite a convenience, and HENCE a big potential irritant). But maybe that is the point I am tryig to share. My Nokia Communicator does not have push email (I have to download it each time). I seem to be comfortable with it. Pray to God I resist Blackberries as long as possible :-) This is a good debate, and I hope to do more research and write something more soon.

Nipun - Yes, self-control is the key. The internet with its tremendously creative all-flashes-glowing style can be quite a beast to tame!

Mahesh - thanks! Keep reading

Unknown said...

The article you have posted is true
I have recently taken internet connection and I cannot remember a day when I have not checked my mail and visited any social networking sites, its now become a habit that before going to sleep I have to check my mail. This generation has become lightning fast and wants every thing at fingertips. As the technology is progressing its making the people lazy,students prefer to chat rather than playing and are seen playing online games for hours.
I will try to limit my internet working hours
Thank you sir for enlightening me

sanjay said...

Hi Sir, What an insightful food for thought blogpost! Sir it is true that to be in the race of being one of the best, smartest and trendiest we are getting addicted to these gizmos and accounts. These things do more harm than they do any good to us in our daily life. The things which you mention that the best way to come across anyone is to have warm one to one interaction. I also want to point out that being kept aloof to internet for even a single day it will be uncomfortable situation for many of us. The latest gadgets which have made human life much simpler have actuaaly made us slaves to those gadgets which if we do not find around us now we will again be in uncomfortable zone. Giving everything a proper time is a must(as mentioned in blog) if one want to really want to be active in professional and personal life.

Anurag Khandekar said...

Respected Sir,
The blog was really a good explanation of how the man is becoming a slave of technology and forgetting that he is the one who created it,and i would like to conclude it in one word as per the learnings shared from the blog, which is to practice self restraint. Sir I would like to Thank you for sharing such a vivid example which made me realize that we all do it without even noticing what is going on around us.

Warm Regards,
Anurag Khandekar

Unknown said...

Sandeep – I am glad I could point to this little debate between BB vs Communicator and hope to hear more thoughts from you about this. A little more inputs from me about the current blog though;

I think if we get into an argument of how technology has actually made us distant from our near and dear ones, we will open up a pandora’s box. To me that is something that each one of us has to take a call based on one’s own ambition, one’s own priorities etc. If you ask me ideally I’d put aside everything once I am back from work but…

Here I will primarily focus on how an overdose of technology is actually impacting our work lives as well. A lot depends on the kind of job responsibilities one takes care of. For ex if you are in the Customer Service Arena maybe push technology really helps as I’d like to respond to my customers’ service calls as soon as I can, if I am in the business development then also it is important to be able to respond quickly though maybe not as quickly as the former case. For someone who is a part of Strategy it is imperative that one sets all these distractions aside for a while (this is precisely the dilemma which I’ve been facing, rightly probed by this blog of yours).

So I will continue to use my Blackberry (love this and would seriously recommend that you trade your Communicator with this) but will be more mindful about it and have serious moments of “No Distraction”.

Thanks :)

Unknown said...

By the way another little thing which I want to share about how the Blackberry has actually helped improve relation between me and my wife.

My wife, like all women, loves to shop; and me, like most men, hate shopping. Pre-Blackberry days I used to avoid shopping with her but now (Post-Blackberry) I never say no to accompany her whenever she wants to Shop. I would go to the store with her and while she is busy sifting through her stuff I can be in touch with happening @ work and ofcourse I still keep making a quick glance here and there so that she knows that I am interested in what she is buying as well :)) End Result -> Both of us are happy.

Maybe Research in Motion should use this as the theme of their next advertising campaign :)

Test said...

Mohit - glad to hear that!

Sanjay - good that you have realised the limits of the gadgets.

Anurag - it is a good habit to squeeze learnings down to one word, if possible. You surely have done that!

Akshay - good points! I am glad your wife has not so far discovered that RIM is the saviour of the situation, and not you always! Ha Ha But yes, RIM seems to have missed out on this rather fantastic idea .. I can imagine their campaign with this theme. You point out correctly that job profile determines internet stickiness. I tried to point that out in my blog that IRRESPECTIVE of job profiles, the amount of addiction we seem to be happily carrying can be dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Respected Sir,

I decided that today will be "a no-internet day" for me, and here I am... I have been using internet since class 8, I have a website also & when I clicked on the "e" icon today I realized how it is almost impossible for me to avoid the internet. So the first thing I am doing on the net today is typing this. Maybe I will try the remaining 7 points...

Shoaib Qureshi
Fall 09

harshna khasgiwala said...

Good Morning Sir;
Thank you for sharing your experience and giving us the tips of how to be online which we otherwise would have learnt by actually committing those mistakes. But moreover I think the internet has made it harder for people to relate in person. They spend all their time online with people who agree with them instead of working out their problems with people face-to-face. Which makes people resistant to counter the realty.

harshna khasgiwala said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vipul kothari said...

Dear Sir,
Warm greetings.
Thank you for sharing and giving tips.
There is always the danger of internet addiction though where one spends too much time on the internet. Some may get addicted to just surfing the net, but more potentially dangerous for developing an addiction are MUDs and for getting lost in the virtual world and character(s) one has created.
Another problem that might arise is alienation, of someone who uses the internet a lot, from those around them. They may develop problems communicating and socializing in the real world. The Various other problems of excessive internet or internet addiction are: -
1. Isolation
2. Addiction
3. Inaccurate information
4. Hacking of personal information
5. Viruses
6. Inappropriate websites
Websites like Orkut, twitter, face book etc has become addiction for students as well as professionals. Really in the name of networking or stay in touch people are becoming less productive (Including Me.) Again Thanks a lot for giving such tips which can be useful up to a great extent.
Very rightly said that a personal touch is above all instead of wasting precious time on useless things on internet
Thanks Sir.
Vipul Kothari
Fall 08 Batch

Unknown said...

I read and strongly recommend a book called "In praise of slow" by Carl Honore. It gives a very different perspective of how slow is more enjoyable, productive and not stressful in today's fast and mindless world. I follow a lot of his advice and really enjoyed it.

Test said...

Vikrant - surely, I will get a copy of this for my library as well. Good suggestion!

Vipul - thanks for expanding the idea we discussed.

Harshna - thanks for reading!

Shoaib - try again, try again :-)

Vidit Shah said...

Dear Sir,
I can see people around me who these days trust Google more than a doctor for the health related issues.
In US people need GPS system because there are no people to help to find the address, in India the case is totally different as anywhere we go in India and at what so ever time, we will find some or the other to help finding the address. At the same time we will get sometime to interact with a local person of that place, which foreigners miss. I feel we should take the advantage of the Human resource available in plenty, as compared to the technology or else the day is not far we being slave of technology.
For there reasons i always prefer meeting people face to face than on phone or using social networks unless necessary
Vidit shah

Test said...

Vidit - foreigners get a shock of their lives when they first land at Mumbai or Delhi airport. Many of them have never seen so many people together! So India offers a uniquely different perspective that is unmatched by most foreign nations. Cheers!

Abhishek Soni said...

Respected Sir,
This is the true fact which I don't know how to express, but sir you did it in such a mesmerizing manner that I have to agree 101% on that.

Abhishek soni
fall '08