Cost of connectivity

Interesting Commentary from the ACM Blog which brings to the discussion table several issues:

Are we too connected?
How often do you turn off tune out (disconnect) and is there a cost?
Is there a practical solution to the almost 24/7 connectivity, or does there need to be?

Title: A Connected Life

Author: Carlos Brewer

Never before in history of mankind has there been such an explosion of new and innovative technologies that allow people get in touch instantaneously and so easily. If you walk around the streets of your city or go to a restaurant or a coffee shop you can see people surfing on the Internet either on their cell phone or with their laptop or even on a public computer; most of them are checking their email accounts, using Facebook, or simply uploading pictures to sites as MySpace, Picassa, Flickr and so on.

Be in touch all the time has some consequences, some of them are: privacy is at risk, personal information is shared with other Internet companies; your daily activities are often interrupted by unexpected email and or chat conversations and the list continues. Sometimes I find it really annoying to be talking to somebody and suddenly your partner starts sending email messages and or SMS using a smartphone or PDA, so your counterpart ignores the conversation at irregular intervals, and you have to repeat the last few words from time to time. This is so disturbing that when I am in a formal conversation, in many occasions I say to my counterpart (if the person is a friend of mine) to please do not use the chat service of their smartphones while we are having a particular conversation. If I have that level of confidence with my counterpart I just prefer to limit the conversation.

Another point that I found really curious is the fact that most users of the chatting services offered by modern smartphones (Blackberry, for example) prefer to write a message instead of calling the person. I asked one of my friends about this situation and he said to me that texting is less expensive than calling; however, I found that most of the plans offered by cellphone companies includes a lot of minutes to call and making a call makes no difference than sending a text message. I think users of these phones love the “anonymity” of text messaging and who knows what else.

With this scenario I ask myself if people are becoming more and more isolated, more selfish, more likely to go faster in their lives and less patient? Checking email each five minutes or so is unproductive, and most of the emails (unless you are an executive) are just junk email, and having your corporate email in your personal smartphone is not a good choice unless your company requires you to answer emails even during your vacation in Tahiti. Same applies to Facebook and Hotmail chatting services. Does the world need to know that you are in Tahiti or eating bananas in Puerto Rico? Most users of these services do not realize that posting messages in those sites without having the appropriate precautions can lead to embarrassing situations and problems. Just remember how many users posted intimate details of their lives and those details went public. Or those who complain and reveal secrets of the companies they work for and get fired?.

I personally prefer to use a smartphone to help organize my life thru calendar and tasks reminders, checking (when necessary) documents and spreadsheets, entering single personal financial information, occasionally connecting to the Internet to get latest news, local and remote weather conditions, and email. I find it useless to be connected all day and at all times given the reasons mentioned earlier and because a big screen is way more comfortable than those tiny screens of smartphones.

So, even though I am a computer engineer, I do really believe that there is no practical reason to be online and chatting all day with smartphones even if you are a “remote worker.” Each person deserves a disconnected time. How did our parents and companies in the past to work?

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Peter Sperry

One over looked aspect of constent connectivity is the degree to which the immediate and trivial crowds out the long term and important. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen participants in major budget or investment review meetings checkout because they were responding to the latest tweet, often from sports sites. There is nothing quite so silly as an SL fumbling a question about thier $20 million request for IT investment because they were checking world cup scores on their blackberry. If the meeting is not important enough to disconnect your electronic leashes, your participation is probably not very valuable. If the electronic message is really so urgent that it cann not wait, an assistent can pull you out of the meeting.