As Tech Gadgets Proliferate, There's No Where to Hide
FOR INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
If you should ever need to contact Alan Luckow, you'll have a hard time not reaching him. For most of the waking hours, you can connect with the Ben Lomond, Calif.-based graphic designer by regular phone, mobile phone, e-mail and instant messenger (text, voice, and Web cam, using MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, or Skype).
Luckow will get your message one way or another, whether on his mobile phone, or any of his three computers-two desktops and a laptop. And if he's on the road, no worries. He has been known to drive around Silicon Valley with his laptop open on his passenger seat, searching for an Internet W-Fi Hotspot. Then he can pull over and check his e-mail, call up a client's Web site or download a big file, wherever he is.
While many of his friends and colleagues consider Luckow among the most wired people they know, he sees himself differently. "The thing about people who use technology extensively is that they don't see themselves as being completely wired-in. They integrate it into their lives and it becomes a commonplace thing, and it feels right and normal," he says. "If a person feels like they are too wired, they've let technology encroach upon the things most important to them. Technology can become invasive if you let it," he says.
Whether considered invasive or not, computers and a host of other devices are running full tilt in American households all day long. According to a study on technology usage by the Harrison Group, a Waterbury, Connecticut-based market research firm, a cross-section of Americans said their computers remained on 9.2 hours a day, their TVs ran 8.9 hours a day, and cell phones were on 6.3 hours per day. President Doug Harrison added that, when asked how much time they actually used this technology, respondents indicated they tuned in to their devices about 75 percent of the time they were on.
Lisa Whaley, a Woodbridge, Va.-based life-work coach and former VP at IBM ((Armonk, NY; NYSE: IBM)) believes too many people do let technology invade their life. Whaley addresses the problem in her recently released book Prisoners of Technology - Time to get unplugged. Whaley worked at IBM for 22 years before she decided to step back from the fast-past, tech-intense corporate world two years ago, taking a new approach to her life, and shifting her focus from devices to family and fulfillment.
"We all have all this great technology now that allows us to be accessible, and pretty much connected 24/7 - with cell phones, wireless Internet connections, Blackberries, Treos - all these gadgets that allow us to connect on demand. The problem is: we feel that because we can be constantly connected and accessible, we have to be. That's were people get themselves in trouble."
Whaley admits she was certainly one of those overly connected people "I used to IM my daughter just upstairs to tell her to come down to dinner!" she recalls. Now, though, she opts for face-to-face communication with the people in her life, or at least in her house.
Her recommendation is to keep the technology you find useful, but establish very clear boundaries on when you're going to allow it into your life, and when you're going to unplug.
Cable, director of marketing at Lexar Media (( Fremont, Calif.; Nasdaq: LEXR)) says he is able to unplug when he needs to decompress. Still, he tends to worry about what's going on when the phone is off.
"The last few days, for example, I was on a personal trip and didn't answer my phone and check my email as often as I usually did," he said. But even though it was my own personal time off, I felt a little guilty."
Gina Clark of Belmont, Calif, vice president of marketing at Logitech ((Fremont, Calif.; Nasdaq: LOGI)) says she's trying to pare down her communications technology to two devices: her mobile phone and her laptop, as I means of simplifying her life
"I just found that constantly being connected is not always the best thing," she says. "At the same time, because of the world we live in, I really do have to be available, and I find that my cell phone is almost attached to my ear."
Clark, who also travels extensively, relies on her mobile phone and laptop to keep in touch with people at work and her family. She says being inaccessible through her phone and laptop just means delaying all the decisions she has to make when she gets back to the office or home. She adds that she doesn't have the luxury of unplugging, and doesn't know if she could if she wanted to.
"I don't think I could handle it. If I couldn't connect, I would probably just go into meltdown. I would be thinking about it more, worried about not being able to call someone, or not keeping up with what's going on in the world though my laptop."
Marc Auerbach didn't quite unplug, but significantly slowed down when he decided to move from Silicon Valley, to Birkenfeld, Oregon, where "some old-timers have never heard nor seen the Internet.."
Marc, who worked for Apple Computer ((Cupertino, Calif.; Nasdaq: AAPL)) for 7 ½ years and several other tech companies in Silicon Valley, traded in his broadband connection for a "tenuous dial-up" in his new rural home. Today, he spends his days helping local civic organizations, doing Web work for nonprofits, and restoring the 60 acres of land he now lives on.
He hasn't given up technology, just changed his focus from computers and gadgets to engines that run on bio-diesel, solar panels and inverters, and UV water purifiers, "technologies that might actually change the world for the better," he says.
Marc adds that he now lives on about a quarter of the income he had in the Silicon Valley. "Freedom comes at a price, but in my book it's a bargain."
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