The Coding Monkey

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Being An Anti-Technology Technologist

Scott Hanselman (recently added to my Blogroll by the way) points to this absolutely fantastic post:

With the amount of crap being vomited up by his Ethernet connection -- all day, every day -- it's tough to walk away from the spigot for fear that he'll return to waist-deep water. Ethan reads his mail in real-time to avoid being greeted by a hundred-message pile-up when he gets back from lunch. Bringing the computer with you is the only way to keep up.
Years ago, someone phoned you and you weren't home, you missed the call and they had to try back -- now, the messages queue up in voice-mail. TV shows used to slip unwatched by unless you were there to suck them up them in real-time -- today, my TiVo has hours of mindless crap that it's faithfully holding for me. The Web originally required me to actually go out and do something as quaint as visit sites to read them -- these days, my feed reader pulls down megabytes of data -- a large portion of it, of course, cat pictures -- and piles it up, forever. Each of these swollen reservoirs of data silently mocks me with my inadequacy.

For my part, my life looks nothing like this, and it took a lot of work to keep it that way. I recognized the pattern early on when I was working for a small consulting company while going to MSOE. They gave me a pager... and my life changed. I started calling it my mood changer, because every time it would vibrate, now matter where I was or what I was doing, I'd get a scowl, and everyone knew I got paged. Did you know that nobody ever pages you with good news? When I interviewed for my next job, and they gave me a chance to ask questions of them about the position, my very first one was, "Will I be required to be on call or carry a pager?"

For a couple years after that experience I even refused to own a cell phone. I didn't want to risk being that available. I liked the fact that people had to send me an email, or leave a... *gasp* ...message on an answering machine. It's frankly quite liberating. Even today, now that I have a cell phone, I'm fairly protective of the number. I don't use SMS, don't own a Crackberry... hell... I don't even carry a PDA around anymore (though I did experiment with one for a while).

At the various companies where I work, they tend to have mass email lists for every project that flood you with useless crap every five minutes. Instead of sending a very directed message, peole love sending it on the list, even though only 1% of the list members really care. I make it a habit to have myself removed from that list as soon as I'm off a project. If I can't swing that, then I always set up a Rule Wizard to file the message off into a folder I never read. I'm religious about it.

Someone I used to work with never was that good about getting off those email lists. If he was out of the office for a week, he'd end up with hundreds of messages in his Inbox. When he got back into the office, he would delete all his Inbox messages, and then send one mass email to everyone saying that he'd "lost all his email" while he was out, and that he'd "appreciate it if everyone would forward any important messages". He'd end up with about five. I vowed to never let my Inbox get to that point, and so far it's worked.

My sister Sarah is a great example of someone who bucks this trend. She has two cell phones, a Crackberry, and who knows how many other little gadgets. When she commented to me about how surprised she was to see I didn't have these things, since I work in the technology field (I even still file my taxes on paper), I laughed and told her "I'm the last anti-technology technologist". I use technology to improve my life, and not let technology determine my life. Sometimes I wonder whether she brings this flood of information onto herself because she has the technology, as opposed to using the technology to manage the flood.

I will concede one point. I love my RSS Reader. But the nice part about RSS is that it uses a pull, as opposed to a push method. I subscribe to things I'm interested in (like a good dessert), as opposed to having emails forced down my throat because others think it's good for me (like broccoli). Even if not every item in the feed is worthwhile, the fact that I chose to get it makes it more palatable to me.


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