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September 05, 2005
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

Buzzes, Beeps and Ring Tones

It’s very important to play with new toys - no matter how old you are! Many of the HR Doctor’s favorite toys involve electronics. Of course, it helps to be alive in the 21st century when there is both electricity and an ample supply of computer, audio and video gadgets emerging almost weekly. The penchant some of us display for early adoption of technology is expensive of course, but also enjoyable.

ImagePersonal and professional productivity can be enhanced by being able to sit at a desk during a "meeting" while communicating with people you care about in the family or are colleagues within the work family from hundreds or thousands of miles away. It is great to be able to log into the BBC World News on a "smart" phone or a computer any time to see what’s going on in nearly every corner of the world. What a powerful education tool for all of us to embrace and to share with our children!

There are at least four major caveats and dangers which come right along with being a technophile. The first is that spending so much time with excited electrons inevitably reduces the amount of time that you spend with excited human beings. The hours a day spent watching television, playing video games, logging into the Internet or watching DVDs takes away hours that could be spent interacting with others during quiet dinners with the neighbors, being part of a charitable organization like a Rotary Club, going to concerts or, primitive though it may seem, actually reading one of the small rectangular paper objects known as books.

The second danger is that gadgetry can be addictive. The compulsion to bid on everything remotely interesting on e-Bay, or the lure of the "one click" purchase icon on, can be overwhelming. It will likely result in large federal grants in the future, probably through the Department of Homeland Security, to create therapeutic organizations throughout the nation known as "AA" ("Amazon Anonymous") or "e-Bay anonymous."

The third caveat is expense. At the individual level, trying to keep up with the "chip of the week" is unaffordable. Even Bill Gates might have a problem keeping us if his R&D endeavors weren’t tax deductible!

The conundrum is that keeping up with technology in the modern world and being comfortable with it is necessary for our kids’ success, our own positive work, retirement, life experiences, and understanding what is happening in the world. On the other hand, the cost can swamp a personal budget, and send precious organizational resources down a frustrating and highly expensive black hole.

Admit it colleagues, when was the last time you or the agency were satisfied with the outcomes promised by marketing vendors when a large information system change occurred? When was the last time the project came in on time and on budget?

Beyond the expense and the risk of addiction lurks a fourth caveat. This one actually is both a danger and great opportunity. It is the rising expectations which go along with technology’s forward leaps. With a greater speed of communication comes an expectation that we will always be able to communicate! Remember the first days of the dial-up modem, when we would sit patiently for perhaps hours listening to strange electronic noises while telephone dial-up connections were made and small files were downloaded or transferred in geologic time?

Today, however, when the cable TV goes out even for a few minutes, when the satellite antenna is blocked by the frequent Florida monsoons, or when the "network is down," we get exasperated and impatient. We demand a higher level of service tailored to meet our expectations that everything be "on demand."

The revolution in rising expectations means that people may forget how to do research, may rely on Web sites that are of questionable accuracy, and may have expectations at work and at home that are unrealistic. With the greater speed of communications comes spam, telemarketers, pop-up ads and junk mail. With the wonders of Internet access come greater risks of identity theft or pedophile access to our children through chat rooms.

We sacrifice privacy and calm reflection for the capability of having the phone ring in the middle of a library or even in a pristine redwood forest. The substitution of intrusion on demand or not on demand is hardly a victory when the "loser" is our privacy and our ability to be undisturbed.

The conundrum of technology in our lives increases the volume of whining at work and at home. It contributes to many difficult days ahead in trying to run a school system, a hospital, a city, county, state or nation. The MP3 player or cell phone stuck in our ears blocks out learning, listening and, in effect, "living!" That’s the diseaseÉ what’s the treatment?

Resist technology for its own sake. Resist the temptation to upgrade the "system" or to acquire one in the first place without an "environmental" impact review. That assessment of the work environment with and without the changes will look at the likelihood of over-expenditure, system delays and staff frustrations.

It will weigh these against the value of the venture and any other reasonable alternatives, such as cost sharing/system sharing with another local agency. Yes, sharing our toys can be a very good thing to do! At least that way the decision can be made based upon a more full disclosure and consideration of the risks.

There is a final treatment recommendation from the HR Doctor’s experience and from the pages of the author’s new book, Don’t Walk by Something Wrong! (available through, ironically enough). This recommendation is emphatic! When a technology decision is pending - at your home or at the office - don’t make the decision without first going for a walk in a forest. Make that a walk with the cell phone turned off!

May all your beeps and ring tones bring you joy!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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