Technology Obsessed: Lessons from the Past to Regain Productivity from Technology that Enslaves

In this article, I wish to talk about our technology obsessed world.  I was recently with a friend shopping in Uncommon Objects in downtown Austin. We ran across an old stereo receiver, a by-gone of an 80’s generation, and my friend said, “Gee, Brandon, you probably already own this don’t you?!”

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I did laugh … but it got me thinking about the world before technology and today’s world. In particular, how the very technology meant to “free” our lives actually enslaves us.

This baffles me.  Because I thought technology was supposed to make our lives easier, less stressful, with greater time for the things we love.  Instead, we seem addicted to it … checking email while on vacations … checking out posts or text messages several times a day.  Have we really progressed?

It reminds me of an old Andy Griffith show of a man who shows up in Mayberry and is extremely frustrated by the “simple” life they lead.  With all his advances, he stays extremely frustrated until he starts to realize his hectic life has robbed him of real life.

Have we just forgotten the “fences” that were naturally built in the “old technology”?  Or are you too young to remember a time before all this technology?  Perhaps if we just recalled these limitations and put them into action with our current technology, then we can regain some balance again?

I think there is merit in this thought.  So I thought through these natural limitations in old technology below.

    1. Mail only runs once a day, and never on Sundays.  When we only got mail via the Post Office … before email and text messages invaded all areas of our lives … there was a simple rule.  The mail only ran once a day.  Think how ridiculous it would be to go check your physical mail 10x a day.  Back in the “old days,” I quickly learned that my mail ran around 3:30 PM each day.  So it was a waste of time to check it at 10 AM.  Also, after I picked up my mail around 3:30 PM, it was a waste of time to re-check it at 5PM or 10PM.  It wouldn’t run again until the next day!  Also, mail never ran on Sunday.  So you never bothered to check your mail box on Sunday.  There was great freedom in this system.  Can we bring those lessons into our world today?
      • Enforce your own “virtual postman” limitations:  While it may be too radical to suggest that you only check your email once per day, can we limit it to no more than 2 or 3 times a day?  Perhaps you have set times, like 8AM and 5PM?  If you like, you can even tell people: “I just wanted to let you know that I will only be checking my email at 8AM and 5PM each day. So if you email me during other times, please expect a small delay in my response to you.”  If this seems too radical, can you just reduce 1 or 2 checks a day for next week?  So instead of checking it 10x a day, can you aim for 8x instead?
      • Give your “postman” the night off from work.  You can actually turn your email program off!  And turn off email notifications on your phone.  Or put your phone in “airport” mode.  There are also programs and apps that you can setup that will temporarily turn off interruptions for a specified time (e.g., 1 hour) so you avoid interruptions.
      • Take a day off:  Pick one day in the week where you don’t check your email at all.  You may not feel the world will survive being out of communication with you for one day … but trust me … it will.
      • Skim your mail:  Like in the old days, we would quickly skim all our mail to see if anything demanded our immediate attention. If we found something, we acted on it or put it in a special pile to deal with. Everything else we quickly skimmed and discarded. Treating our email in a similar manner will produce tremendous freedom.  For a great resource on this, check out Michael Linenberger‘s books and training.  I hope to actually interview Michael in an upcoming podcast soon.
      • Your reply doesn’t always have to be today:  When you replied to “snail mail,” you might do so right away … but you always knew that the Post Office wouldn’t pick it up until tomorrow.  So you never felt the pressure to respond right away.  Allow yourself a 24-hour rule for most of your email.  Email that is important and urgent can be responded to right away.  Otherwise, don’t feel you have to respond right away to things.
    2. You were lucky to get 3 television stations.  Remember the day when you would use the old antennas and get a few television stations?  If you “flipped” channels, it didn’t take you too long to realize there was nothing on.  It didn’t take you hours to realize this.  As such, people often identified a handful of shows they liked to watch.
      • Limit yourself: In regard to internet surfing and television watching, don’t spend hours of mindless searching.  Identify the websites or channels you mostly gravitate toward.  Limit yourself to those.  Find your favorite sites or shows.  And focus only on those.
      • Give yourself occasional time to explore: Surfing for new shows or sites every now and then is indeed fun.  But try to limit how much you do this.  I would recommend not doing this more than 1x a week, unless your job demands it.
    3. You only hear the phone ring when you’re home.  There actually was a time before cell phones.  In those days, the only way to call someone when you weren’t home was via a public phone booth.  As such, there was great freedom to not be interrupted when you were out exploring or busy.
      • Limit your accessibility:  When I’m with my family, I will often turn off my phone or stick it in my backpack.  The most important people I want to talk to are already with me!
      • Don’t feel you must answer:  It baffles me that people think just because they get a text message or phone call, they must respond right away.  You really don’t.  Ask yourself this question next time you get a phone call or text message: “Is this SO important that I would be willing to pay $20 to respond right now?”  You will find that there are very few things that are worth paying to respond immediately to.
      • Respect people:  It annoys me to see people eating together and have their faces buried in a phone the entire time. And I have done this as well.  But it sends a message to those around you … “You aren’t that important to me to demand my entire attention.”  Have a technology fast around people that really matter to you.  This also applies to business meetings.  Instead of surfing the internet or your phone in a meeting, put it away or don’t even bring it!  Actively engage in what you do.  In the old days, we never had such distractions in meetings anyway.  And for goodness sake, if you are talking to someone in person, do not answer your phone in the middle of the conversation, nor text someone.  Give people the attention they deserve!
    4. Everything shut down on Sunday.  Some reading this article might remember a time when a lot of businesses closed down on Sunday.  Even today, some businesses like Chick-fil-A are closed on Sunday.  We can quickly dismiss such practices to archaic religious ideas, but if you think about it … doesn’t it make sense that you need to recharge occasionally?  You can’t work 24/7, and if you try you will eventually burn out.  This is the reason we need vacations.
      • Push to take off one day a week:  While you can just take time off once a year, that seems too little.  The older I get, the more it seems a good idea that a day off every 7 days is a great life balance.  That gives us 6 full days of work if you like.  Let’s say you slept 8 hours a night, commuted to work 1 hour each day, and worked a LOT during the week … say 60 hours.  Well, 6 days is equal to 144 hours.  Your sleep, commute, and work total 130 hours.  Do you see that you can really do that in 6 days?!  With 14 hours left over … plus a full day free!  There really isn’t any reason most of us can’t take one day a week off.
      • When you take time off, focus on Quadrant II activities:  Focus on the important things in your life, that can easily be ignored or pushed aside because they aren’t always “urgent.”
    5. You never knew what Mr. Jones thought of you.  In the old days, without technology, we weren’t privy to all the random thoughts people have. In contrast today, we are constantly exposed to a lot more “stinkin’ thinkin’” from people than we were in the past.  People will say some of the goofiest things too … things they would never say in public.  We are exposed to a lot more of people’s negative thoughts, and sometimes this may even get directed toward us.  Some people feel they must respond to negative comments, especially about them or people they know.  Yet in the old days, we simply never wasted our time on such battles mostly because we were never around to hear them!  If people had a negative thought, it might be shared on a private call or in the hallway.  But today, they are posted on Facebook for all to see.
      • Pick your battles:  Fact is, people don’t think about what they post.  I would say that 90% of such comments you should just ignore … perhaps 99%.  It just isn’t worth your time.  Avoid debate and argument.  If someone disagrees with you, or even belittles you, ignore them.  Focus on the positive in your life, and don’t enter into battles when you can help it.  For example, when I skim Facebook comments and see some that are negative or moody, I quit reading and skip to the next.  I refuse to comment on negativity unless the person is struggling with something negative in their life and asking for advice.
      • If you do battle … do not do it online:  Not in Facebook comments, posts, text messages, emails, Tweets … nothing electronic.  This is a lost art in the new technology generation.  If you have a conflict in your life, and it really matters that you engage in it, then it must be worthy enough to do so face-to-face with that person.  If you would rather keep that conversation electronically, it is not worth the battle.  Recently, a person I know decided to complain about his boss after he quit his job.  Instead of doing this in person, he turned to email.  Not only did he say things he would have never said in public, but he destroyed relationships with those around him in the process.  Had he just addressed these issues in person, he would have avoided such grief and heartache in those involved.  By the way, I think you should rarely do this, but instead you should …
      • Create your world, not tear down someone else’s:  Recently, I ran across a post where a friend wrote something that I thought was off-track.  I debated what to do, and finally decided to not comment on it.  I decided to respect their thoughts and not engage in debate.  Instead, I later created my own post which emphasized how I saw things from a more positive point of view.  I never referenced this person, nor called into question what they believed.  Back in the “old days” we weren’t so connected.  We had a small circle of friends, but we didn’t feel the need to “correct the world.”  Spend your time building up your life, and don’t waste time trying to “fix” people who aren’t asking to be fixed.

If you think of others, feel free to comment below!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Technology Obsessed: Lessons from the Past to Regain Productivity from Technology that Enslaves

  1. I have relistened to your podcast several times. I have seen what some of my errors were in studying since I was younger like the distractions. I have also had the TV or radio playing in the background when studying. I have crammed for many test to get that last minute edge hoping to have something stick in my head. I have also most of the eight items at one time or another. I have since listening to your podcast have developed a very good stragety to help me in the future with either school work or my job. Time management is the very good start to all life habits. People are creatures of habit. I have since quit highlighting, turning off distractions, changing your identity, and treat your learning like building. I have started to manage my time at work making a list of things that need to get done that day in an 8 hour period. I started to take 15 minute breaks to refocus on the material at hand. I use turning off distractions on the football field where I coach 11-13 years old pop warner players when going into battle against another opponent. The school of rock song was a clever and helpful illustration show how one can use different methods to learn. I intend to your podcast for all my feature endeavors. I have always wanted to learn how to play the guitar or even get my motorcycle license.

    • Michael, thanks for your comments! You raised a lot of great points. Let me know your progress on taking those breaks to your productivity. Also, on the guitar … go for it!! I don’t ride a motorcycle, so I can’t speak to that … but for the guitar, I’m convinced ANYONE can play if they choose to. There are 2 big hurdles to get beyond, and then you are good to go!