The gentleman in the striped, gray suit had a cellphone to one ear and was talking into a laptop computer with the other. This was all quite normal except for one thing--he was sitting in a vaporetto, one of the waterbuses that provide much of the public transportation for the Italian city of Venice.
It gets harder and harder to get away from work because of such things as the free Internet connection in our Rome hotel, or the many Wi-Fi hotspots in the gate areas of the Venice and Milan airports.
It's great that it has come to this. Or was that, great, it has come to this? The continuing erosion of the boundaries between home and office, the need to be available 24x7 to provide increasing customer service--this is all wonderful, right?
Are these systems the machines that will liberate us for more important work and greater productivity? Or have technology devices become high-tech ankle bracelets for workers (and not just white-collar ones), links in a microprocessor-based assembly line? As with most developments in life, there are pluses and minuses. Technology virtually eliminates the need to worry about currency exchange overseas if you can find an ATM and have enough money in your bank account.
But too much information impedes decision-making and creative thinking. Usually after two days of wandering a trade show floor, my mind cannot absorb any more and I don't know what I have learned until I have a week or two to sort it out.
The mind--my mind anyway--needs a certain amount of free megabytes to process information. Fill it too full, and it grinds to a crawl. I don't know how other professions work, but I find that in writing, I need time for ideas to collide like atoms, split apart, and reform in new shapes and combinations.
Of course, I am writing this on a commuter bus with a laptop appropriately positioned and a BlackBerry at my side, periodically checking the messages that buzz in, like a contestant on a never-ending Jeopardy episode. "Alex, I'll take 'I have no life outside work' for $500."
Do we make better decisions, or just more decisions because we have more information and can convey these thoughts at all times? Adding too many features to a software package makes learning how to use it intimidating. Certainly, walking into any appliance store, I find too many choices keep me from making a purchase. It is the sales person's job to limit choice and make a decision possible. Journalists do the same thing. We help choose from the array of information that can paralyze our readers.
When Jay Leno was still primarily a stand-up comic, he used to do a gag that something like this: "Someone invented an appliance that cooks an egg in 15 seconds. Now, someone else has come out with one that cooks an egg in eight seconds. Honey, I've been home five seconds. Where's my dinner?"
Do we really need a device to cook an egg in eight seconds? Maybe what we really need is a different kind of egg.
And time to think about the answer.
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