Outside my window, Connecticut's scenic shoreline is giving way to pavement and strip malls as I hurtle south on Amtrak's Acela 2159, but I'm oblivious to the scenery. I've just finished retrieving my office voice-mail messages using my "smart" phone. Now I'm pecking away at my laptop's keyboard while listening to news and sports updates that I downloaded onto my iPod before leaving home this morning.
Do I sound scattered and unfocused? I may well be, and I apologize. But the fault is not entirely mine. I've become hopelessly addicted to the technology that I've welcomed into my life. And as many of us have come to realize, that technology is the digital equivalent of a double-edged sword.
On the plus side, of course, is the unparalleled connectivity. E-mail is but a WiFi connection away; "smart" phones let you surf the Web and retrieve e-mail without a computer. Essentially, I'm never out of touch. If a coworker needs to reach me while I'm at a highschool swim meet on a Saturday afternoon or at home at 10: 30 on a Wednesday night, no problem. I can be in the "office" anytime I can get a decent cell signal, or better yet, a highspeed WiFi connection.
And therein lies the problem. All too often, these great productivity-enhancing tools become all-consuming, making it nearly impossible to get away from it all and recharge the mind, body, and soul. After all, how can I ignore the ringing (or at least, vibrating) device on my hip when all I have to do is whip it out, read the message, and reply?
Nonetheless, I made my first attempt to kick my technology habit last fall. Despite some trepidation, I turned off the function that pushed my work e-mails to my "smart" phone. Amazingly, I found that our business didn't collapse. The magazine still arrived on readers' desks on time, our Web site still got updated daily, and our e-mail newsletters were still delivered to readers' inboxes on schedule.
Acting on the suggestion of our director of finance, Marilyn Hogan, I took the next step in January, making a New Year's Resolution that I've actually been able to keep. Each morning for almost six months now, I've begun my workday by looking at my daily task list. I then force myself to check a couple of items off my list before I open my e-mail box or check voice mail. (Well, to be completely honest, I do check my office voice mail from my "smart" phone while driving to work, but I really, really try to resist the temptation to return any calls.)
Now, I've taken it a step further. On weekends, I try to log in to e-mail and check voice mail no more than once a day. That's right. Just once. It seems to be working.
I was quite proud of my progress until I read a news story that forced me to acknowledge that when it comes to breaking the technology habit, I'm still in the minor leagues. The story mentioned a blog post by West Coast venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who announced that he was giving up on responding to all the e-mail piled up in his inbox. "I am so far behind on e-mail that I am declaring bankruptcy,'' he wrote. "If you've sent me an e-mail (and you aren't my wife, partner, or colleague), you might want to send it again. I am starting over."
Others have gone even further. The day after learning of Wilson's move, a Silicon Valley CEO sent a message to every person in his e-mail address book telling them that he was taking the rest of the year off from e-mail.
I am humbled. Not only are these guys way ahead of me, but, candidly, I doubt if I'll ever catch up. I simply don't think I can turn off e-mail altogether, and I certainly wouldn't delete the messages in my inbox without the courtesy of a reply. I just don't have the guts. Do you?