It’s always interesting to see the sheer number of options we have for improving our lives with technology – everyone I know has a smart phone, a Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/FourSquare/Pinterest account, etc. Are our lives improved by those things? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
For example, while a smart phone is an awesome tool, and helps keep me in touch with my team and customers, it can also be an electronic leash that prevents me from taking time off to spend with friends and family. I like the things it does most when it’s not being used as a phone – playing music, working as a GPS, a fitness tracking device, or just an idle game or two. It’s best when it’s working for me….not when I’m working for it.
Same thing for social networking – it’s great to multi-task when on a long (sometimes boring) conference call, but there’s a clear point when it’s easier just to pick up the phone.
There are lots of human elements that get lost the further we get from actual face-to-face communication. I can’t count the number of times a staff member has stormed into my office complaining about what someone else sent in an e-mail message – as if I could interpret the sender’s intent any better than they could. E-mail, IM and SMS are tools to assist communication, nothing more. When they become the primary method of communication, then the likelihood of mis-communication is increased.
I’ve used a set of rules over time that seem to work for me – some of these are borrowed, and not original ideas, but here’s what works:
- E-mail, IM, texting and Twitter are great for getting information out there, but it’s lousy for two-way communication. It can only convey information, it can’t infer intent, mood or agreement. If you find yourself writing complete sentences, or have strong feelings about the subject, pick up the phone, or just go see them in person.
- Smart phones don’t make you look cool and connected. They generally annoy other people, and if you’re paying attention to it, you’re not paying attention to the world around you (and you’re more likely to walk into a light pole). My primary attention needs to be on the person in front of me – they’re far more important than anything that might show up on that phone. Twitter can wait.
- If you’re chasing the latest new app or gadget, you’re probably not focusing on WHY you want it. Back in 2007, it would have been hard to predict how the iPhone would change the landscape….but with a more mature market, it’s easier to see its usefulness. That doesn’t mean the NEXT cool gadget is a must-have, though. These things are tools, not ends in themselves. Use what works.