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Commentary
2/21/2006
02:21 PM
Tom Smith
Tom Smith
Commentary
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When Tech Hurts

The ways in which technology has enhanced all of our lives are too numerous to count. But on Tuesday, I was struck by two stories that I interpret as signs that technology may be driving too deep and becoming too pervasive in our lives.

The ways in which technology has enhanced all of our lives are too numerous to count. But on Tuesday, I was struck by two stories that I interpret as signs that technology may be driving too deep and becoming too pervasive in our lives.First, I'll raise the issue of teens and their propensity to reveal personal information in blogs. I'm a big proponent of kids getting ready access to the Internet, using the Web to enhance their educational experience, and even using e-mail to communicate with friends and distant family members. But it's likely that most early teens lack the sensibility and the life experiences to avoid trouble that could easily find them online.

As the aforementioned study points out, among teens studied, 70% disclosed at least their first name, 67% revealed their age, and 61% provided their contact information either in the form of e-mail (44%), instant messenger name (44%), or a link to a personal home page (30%). Any or all of those bits of personal data should be enough for a predator to target such teens. What's the answer? I'd like to say that Internet service providers' parental controls are the answer here, but reliance on technology created this problem in the first place, so I'm not sure that's the best solution. Those controls can't be effective unless there's strong parental involvement and strong parental controls--such as strict limits on computer and Internet usage. (What do you think is the key to keeping kids safe online? Take our poll.)

Second, there's a new indicator of the physical downsides to text messaging. A study from the U.K. finds that 38% more people suffer from sore wrists and thumbs due to "texting" than five years ago and 3.8 million people now complain of text-related injuries every year. This, of course, follows the recent revelations of people suffering from "BlackBerry thumb." If my own concerns about appearing pretentious didn't cure me of my own blossoming text-messaging-in-public-places habit, these developments will surely do the trick. But for those of you who are heavily into text messaging, you might ask yourself: What's wrong with messages that don't get an instantaneous response, or with being out of direct communication with someone for two or three minutes, or even an hour?

If you take this discussion to a purely enterprise level, I wonder whether the ability to stay in touch at all times and from all places doesn't do more to burn people out than to empower them to do work on a timely basis. For my money, I'll gladly take an employee who has the ability (and desire) to completely disconnect from work when it's appropriate over the workaholic who can't or won't unplug. How about you?

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