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Regaining Control over Information Technology

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It’s unavoidable. Living in
post-industrial 21st-century society means being surrounded by information
technology. It’s there in our offices, in our cars, and in our homes. It’s even
in the toys that belong to our children, who no doubt will be far better at
dealing with it than we are.

 

Fully one third of us don’t deal
with it well, according to research by Larry Rosen, psychology professor,
author, and pundit. Rosen is the Paul Revere of the Information Age, warning us
about the principal downside of silicon and software, which you or I just might
experience, sooner or later. In a word, he says, it’s “technostress.”

 

The relentless march of technology
can overwhelm anyone, Rosen says. I’ve personally seen people weaned on DOS
batch files throw up their hands in the face of incessant hardware and software
upgrades and stick with comfortable technology that’s as long in the tooth as
it is short on helping them be most productive. Others have taken the
counterrevolutionary step of actually returning to such simpler machines as
typewriters.

 

These neo-Luddites may represent
the most extreme reaction to technostress, but if we’re smart about it, they’ll
remind us to try to keep the demands of the future in balance with the need for
some degree of stability and familiarity.

 

Rosen, who is coauthor of the bookTechnoStress: Coping
with Technology @Work @Home @Play
, has good ideas in his book as
well as at his Web site (www.csudh.edu/psych/lrosen.htm). “You don’t have to do it
all,” he said in a phone interview. “You have the right to make choices. Just
because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

 

He gave this example: If you’re
doing research for a report, just because you can spend five hours surfing the
Web and finding relevant information doesn’t mean you should. Similarly, just
because you can answer all emails immediately doesn’t mean you should drop
everything to do so.

 

And just because technology can do
many things at the same time, this doesn’t mean you should. Rosen calls this
“multitasking madness.” If you do too many things at once, you don’t pay enough
attention to any one task to do it well.

 

The theme is prioritizing, placing
human constraints of your own devising on the technology. You know the
technology is controlling you, rather than you controlling the technology, he
said, if you’re getting yelled at by family members for spending too little
time with them or if you’re having sleep problems because you’re overwhelmed.

 

Tips on Taking Control

 

“Know when to stop,” said Rosen,
who teaches a course at California State University–Dominguez Hills
called “The Global Impact of Technology.” One of his students, business major
Maria Garcia, sometimes feels overwhelmed with information, as so many of us
do.

 

She has found a solution in
Rosen’s ideas by controlling the information onslaught. “What works best for me
is to pay closest attention to information that applies directly to me, then
sort out what’s important and what’s not.”

 

Technology can be a friend here.
By creating filters in your email program, you can eliminate many irrelevant
messages and have urgent messages from important people flagged for your
attention.

 

By learning the advanced search
procedures for Google or any other Web-search tool you use, you can eliminate
many irrelevant sites and home in more quickly on the information you’re after.

 

But some computer time-management
tricks involve good old-fashioned self-control.

 

Restrain yourself from clicking on
intriguing but irrelevant links when doing research on the Web. Manage email
conversations by responding to messages selectively and by matching the length
of your response to how eager you are to continue conversing.

 

Finally, stop yourself from adding
to the technostress of others. Keep your email messages to one screen if
possible and use an informative subject line. If you expect a lot of
back-and-forth communication, forgo email completely and pick up the
phone—it will be a lot more efficient.

 

With Web pages, put the most
important information up front and break up pages with informative subheads so
readers can get the gist of what you’re saying with a quick scan. Use clear,
concise language to communicate, not bureaucratese to impress.

 

Reid Goldsborough is a
syndicated columnist and author of the book <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway
.
He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column.

 

 

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