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Dot Calmthe search for sanity in a wired world
By Debra A. Dinnocenzo Richard B. Swegan
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Debra A. Dinnocenzo and Richard B. Swegan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTake Heed of Net Speed
Imagine a world where noise is everywhere. Not just surrounding you, but following you wherever you go. Some of that incessant clatter may be pleasant—bursts of music, laughter, sound of water. And some may be jarring—atonal, harsh, discordant. The constant din and jumble of sound seems to press on us, creating a brooding sense of tension, anxiety, and overload.
For most of us, this world doesn't really exist (although, as you walk through a busy city or a crowded airport, you may think so). If we substitute the image of noise for the reality of our daily lives, the accuracy of the image becomes clear. We live in an increasingly fast-paced, high-energy, constantly moving world where outside events intrude on our privacy and personal life. Everything around us shouts faster—faster connections, quicker service, and even faster fast food. No one is saying let's work more slowly and take our time. Whether you work in a "new economy" or "old economy" firm, run your own business, work in education, operate in the public sector, or attend school, the demands to make every minute count, to eke out every precious second for maximum multitasking, are constant. We now live in a 24/7 wired world bombarded by information that reaches us at lightning speed.
Prove the premise yourself. For a block of time, say, two weeks, notice how many articles, TV segments, radio spots, and advertisements address the issue of our increasing state of busyness. You'll be amazed by the results! We did a similar study and found:
Articles in two weekly news magazines about children being overscheduled;
A TV segment about the increasing number of business people who stay in touch with the office while on vacation;
Articles about people disconnecting from their everyday work world;
Several articles about rudeness associated with the use of cell phones;
Countless articles about one aspect or another of Internet usage; and
A variety of print ads and commercials targeted to those who are burdened by overload and/or those who seek more and faster connections.
These results provide a quick and compelling sense of the issues that are causing increasing discomfort for all of us.
Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired World provides strategies for living and working well in the increasingly complex world in which we all live. We discuss both the speed and pace of our evolving e-world, and the serenity and calmness we all seek. The desire for calmness is a search—a journey that holds challenges, choices, and consequences. It is a never-ending process as each of us adjusts to new issues, challenges, and technologies.
The challenges we have faced, individually and as a couple, in efforts to balance the demands of work, relationships, family, and faith are also reflected in Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired World. Our experience serves as a frame of reference for the gathering and retelling of the collective experience of others on a similar search.
Our research reveals there are three major trends that impact your life in today's highly connected world:
* Access Overload
* Information Overload
* Work Overload
What defines these types of Overload, how they've come to exist, and what you can do about them, comprise the major focus of this book. But, before proceeding with that discussion, let us offer a word of clarification. It would be easy to dismiss what we say as the ranting of anti-technology Luddites who yearn for the "good old days." However, that's clearly not the case. We own and use many of the technology tools available and discussed in this book. These tools provide us with numerous benefits, both in terms of our ability to stay in touch with others and to share information. In reality, neither of us invests energy yearning for a return to simpler times. We don't think that will happen. The world will continue moving faster, with more tools and more information streaming your way—in multiple forms and at faster rates. The real challenge and focus of your search is learning how to maintain your sanity, a sense of balance, and the essential points of nontechnological connectedness in this constantly evolving high-tech world.
The proliferation of technology tools—designed to keep us informed, connected, and accessible—is creating a growing sense of Access Overload that threatens the balance and serenity that we seek and need in our lives. The simple truth is that there's not only more information, communication, and knowledge being shared, but it's also reaching us via an expanding array of ever-present—and potentially always ON—technology tools.
Access Overload is probably best described by contrast. Think back to twenty or twenty-five years ago, when most of us lived without voice mail, cell phones, paging, answering machines, and call forwarding. What was our world like then? Certainly the pace was slower. You could not assume that someone received your message when you called. If they returned your call, there was no guarantee you would be available, thus starting the much-dreaded round of telephone tag. At the end of the day, you couldn't check messages unless you could speak directly to someone in your office. And you certainly couldn't return calls, because there was no one there to answer them. Spending an hour every evening listening and responding to voice mail messages simply did not occur. Certainly, people could and did work in the evening, but they weren't directly accessible, whether at home or on the road.
Then came the new technologies. While it was, in reality, a gradual process, it seems that almost over-night everyone was connected, in touch around the clock. Consider how quickly we've moved to a world that expects twenty-four-hour access and response. Think about the last time you had a complaint or a technical problem and couldn't reach a "live" customer service or technical support person when you needed help. Our guess is that you wanted assistance immediately, but not via a website or fax service. We all want help when the need arises, regardless of the hour showing on the clock. It seems that all of us, at times, want and expect a 24/7 world.
You may recall a time when you had to ask someone if they had a fax machine. Now, of course, a fax machine is standard (and, some suggest, a soon-to-be-outdated technology), and few business cards today are printed without a fax number. What's more, now we can fax to each other over the Internet, at airports, in hotel rooms, directly to computers, and at home. It follows that these exploding and expanding fax capabilities (and the inherent levels of access that result) are not unlike the expanding uses and impact of wireless phones.
Accessibility for emergencies, safety, or family connections has, of course, undeniable benefits. However, being accessible to others on a twenty-four-hour basis has, for many of us, led to Access Overload. Simply put, you can no longer escape. If you choose, you can be reachable anytime, anywhere in the world—and this takes a toll. Or, sometimes, we don't even choose it. Think back to the not-too-distant past when it was relatively rare to receive a business call at home. Given cell phones and pagers, many of us are reachable even when we don't want to be. Therefore, at least one part of Access Overload is the loss of privacy as technology has invaded our personal time and space. To a large degree, a home is no longer a "castle," because anyone can breach the walls electronically. Telemarketers who interrupt your evening are an all-too-constant reminder of this.
If you assume that the loss of privacy is one outcome of Access Overload, it is also realistic to suggest that time, as a boundary, has become meaningless. It is not that the clock on the wall no longer has meaning, or that we don't, to some extent, order our lives by it. Rather, it suggests that with a 24/7 mentality comes the reality that the eight-hour workday is now artificial. Not only do time zones cease to exist as a barrier to communication but also, as those walls have broken down, the premium on speed of response has gone up exponentially. We are more accessible in our own country and just as accessible to others around the world.
As a result, the eight-hour workday has become distorted, as has the workweek and the distinction between work and vacation. One direct result of Access Overload is the assumption on the part of some managers, customers, and coworkers that you will be accessible all the time, and that you'll use your personal time to stay connected. The fact that, for many people, there is literally no "down time" is creating a toll on relationships, families, and emotional well-being.
At its most basic level, Access Overload interferes with our ability to interact with others. Along with a rise in mobile phone use, there's been an increase in articles about the rudeness of cell phone users. More restaurants are now restricting cell phone usage just as they restrict smoking. Or on a more personal level, how many of us have had romantic evenings with significant others or family activities interrupted by cell phone calls and/or a beeping pager? Of course, some jobs require that people be accessible, due to the life-and-death nature of their jobs, and we're certainly not suggesting that on-call doctors and others in critical jobs turn off their pagers for the sake of romance! However, what constitutes URGENT has become redefined by technology that confuses urgency with accessibility.
For many of us, and our anecdotal data support this, high levels of access are overwhelming. While this book is not specifically about stress or stress management, it is stressful for many of us to live under the constant tyranny of access. The fear that something important might be missed, the desire to connect with others, and the simple anxiety created by a ringing phone may overwhelm some people. At a minimum, constant access, when combined with the other Overload factors, creates the very real sense that the world is moving ever faster and becoming more out of control.
There are certain business situations, of course, where work will be intense. Proposals must get out overnight, urgent projects must be completed, production crises demand our attention, or a host of other legitimate issues arise, creating intensive work situations for short periods of time. This is a reality of life. When, however, this is the constant state of the work environment, the cumulative impact of work, access, and information Overload becomes destructive.
Constant access can be daunting and, at a minimum, represents an invasion of our psychic space. When you add the avalanche of information to this equation, the burden placed on people to manage and control their lives becomes even more extreme.
The speed at which information is created and bombards us causes a pervasive sense of Information Overload. This accompanies an overwhelming, defeated feeling of being perpetually unable to process everything. While information, communication, and knowledge are being shared at a vastly greater rate than ever before, so many of us feel woefully incapable of handling it all. Even before the advent of the Internet, most of us felt buried in data and information. Consider the media, for example. Where once there were three basic TV channels, now we have access to hundreds of channels. Multiple channels offer a dizzying array of programming—all news, all sports, movies, education, history, science, and the list goes on.
The same explosion of offerings extends to radio, magazines, and other printed media. To get a quick sense of this, just browse for twenty minutes in a mega bookstore. Stop at the magazine section and scan the range of titles and subject matter. Notice the number of magazines and/or topics that wouldn't or couldn't have existed ten years ago. If you want to feel even more overwhelmed, stop and look at the number of topic areas for books and the incredible number of books that exist in each area. Multiply the number of books in a bookstore by the number of new titles published each year (estimated to be as high as 150,000), and the colossal volume of available information becomes staggering.
Yet this describes the volume of information that surrounds us at only one level. Add to this the explosion of information created by the Internet, e-mail, and other wireless tools, the amount of information now available becomes mountainous!
The avalanche of information currently provided on the Internet is almost incomprehensible. It's estimated that more than 1.5 million pages are added to the Web each day, and that Internet use doubles every one hundred days. However, the Internet, in and of itself, is not the major culprit behind Information Overload. At the same time, the way we search the Internet and gain access to important information can contribute to overload.
The real gremlin behind Information Overload is email. While we are certainly users and advocates, e-mail clearly adds a different dynamic and a layer of complexity to Information Overload. As mentioned previously, e-mail is a major contributor to Access Overload. It is an even bigger contributor to Information Overload. Why? Here are a few reasons:
It is very difficult to separate requests for information from the sharing of information. Certainly there are filtering systems available for most e-mail systems, but even the best don't stop the deluge of messages.
e-Mail truly knows no time boundaries. Messages can be sent and received at all hours of the day. While this has many advantages, it is very easy to face a situation where you have "emptied" your inbox at the end of the day only to find that it has filled with thirty or more messages by morning.
Many e-mail messages include attachments, which can be voluminous in their own right.
e-Mail grows exponentially. It is very easy in an e-mail system to copy several hundred of your "closest" friends or "most important" colleagues! Our experience tells us that as soon as someone does that, the responses begin to grow at a rapid geometric rate-not in response to the importance of the message, but simply because people now feel they are involved, need to be noticed or, in truth, really do have something to contribute.
Just like voice mail, e-mail can serve as a substitute for face-to-face communication. Sometimes it's easier and more appropriate to dash off an e-mail message, particularly when sharing information. In some cases, though, e-mail can unleash confusion and misunderstanding that would not have been created by face-to-face or voice-to-voice discussion. Aside from the resulting controversy, such e-mail exchanges can result in increased time to resolve a problem.
Information Overload can lead us to feel frantic and out of control. Try as we might, the tyranny of e-mail is inescapable. Once we complained about processing volumes of paper from our overflowing in-baskets. Now those paper in-baskets have been replaced by e-mail. The significant difference is that email can follow us anywhere and can arrive anytime. Unlike "snail" mail, which is dependent on certain delivery times and schedules, e-mail is timeless and inescapable.
At its worst e-mail can overwhelm us. We can shut it off to go on vacation or transmit auto-response "out-of-office" messages. However, the e-mail messages continue to accumulate. For many, the feeling is one of treading water. Simply to keep our head above water, we feel we must continually process e-mail just to keep from drowning. The impact can be exhausting.
While Access Overload may lead to an invasion of our psychic space, Information Overload adds a layer of frenzy to the mix. We seem to swim through an ocean of information, and the ocean keeps getting wider and deeper.
The never-ending sea of information and access results in a "wireless tether." We are constantly tied to the tools and information resources designed to free us and provide greater mobility, while subjecting legions of us to Work Overload. There is a growing sense, matched by a growing reality, that our work is always with us, following us wherever we go, demanding immediate attention and responses.
In Japan, it is estimated that over 10,000 people die annually from overwork, or karoshi. While karoshi is not a reportable cause of death in other countries, we need only look at the literature on stress to gain a quick sense that overwork is a major problem. Researchers from Australia, Canada, and Germany also connect overwork to heart disease and other illnesses. Articles appear frequently about overwork, as well as the sheer overscheduling of lives—including, as more people are pointing out, the overscheduling of our children. Many of us have seen others (or considered ourselves) dropping out to pursue something else, stepping off the fast track or in some other way changing lifestyles to a simpler or more meaningful choice.
Excerpted from Dot Calm by Debra A. Dinnocenzo Richard B. Swegan Copyright © 2001 by Debra A. Dinnocenzo and Richard B. Swegan. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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