Remember how we used to talk about technological innovations helping us become more productive and efficient? When was it we last made some comment along those lines? Ah, yes, yesterday! Oh, and a day or two before that. Unfortunately the tendency is for technological innovations to complicate our lives even more. My bugbear at the moment is the increasing volume of email I receive on a daily basis. My big challenge is keeping up with that email and remaining being productive at the same time. The amount of stuff I had to contend with reached a critical mass and I just couldn’t manage the flow terribly well. My solutions included picking up a copy of Getting Things Done and buying a license for the fantastic OmniFocus to help me implement some sort of GTD methodology. I am still working through the book (ironically I am struggling to set aside time to read the book properly) although I’ve been using OmniFocus for a little while now to some success. My own GTD implementation is very much a work in progress.
Anyway, that introduction is supposed to set the scene for why I attended an event hosted by BulkSMS.com at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton which I understood to be about handling technological stress in our daily lives. There were two speakers on the day, Dr Piet Streicher (MD of BulkSMS.com) and Ramon Thomas (MD of NETucation). Streicher spoke first about the effect of mobile phones in our society. One of the first points he made was that changing technologies mean we should change our habits and used the example of how we used to be more focussed on a phone call when the predominant way we received a call was on our home phone. Streicher made the point that there is an increasing need for better mobile phone etiquette. Some tips include switching your phone to silent when you sit down for a meal, not wearing the Bluetooth headset when you are not actually using it and definitely not taking calls in the loo. There were also a couple tips for better sms etiquette and although I can understand some of the concerns, I wonder how valid the concerns are going to be as more and more people interact predominantly using sms, Twitter or other similar services.
Streicher gave out some info for people who are suffering from huge amounts of sms spam using sites like www.smscode.co.za (to identify a spammer), www.waspa.org.za (the Wireless Access Providers Association only has jurisdiction over its members) and www.stopsms.co.za (where spammers are named and shamed). I haven’t really received all that much sms spam although it is certainly on the rise. It is a bit like a localised rash that only requires a little bit of cream once a day or so.
A nasty service called Winks (or something like that) was actually shut down through misuse of premium sms’s for replies. This service facilitated an sms version of something like the Facebook poke and a person who received an anonymous “wink” would have to fork out R20 for a premium reply to find out who sent the message. That company was fined about R250 000 for that stunt. Premium rates are supposed to be disclosed but they tend to be hidden (try see the premium rates on those stupid mobile content ads which largely sell subscription services at a couple bucks a month hidden in the fine print that flashes across the screen for 2.3 seconds).
Interesting tidbit: all sms’s sent on SA networks (well, the vast majority) can be tracked where there is abuse. Services which don’t implement opt-out notifications risk hefty fines per sms (tens of thousands if I heard correctly).
Ramon’s talk was pretty much what the whole afternoon was about for me. His talk was sub-titled “Stress in a Wireless World” … oh ja! He started talking about the paradox of choice with particular reference to social networks. I read a comment on a post I published on the iCommons website recently about a social media aggregator (I forgot the name) which looks a lot like FriendFeed and a couple other similar services. The problem with all of these aggregators is that there are so many available and not everyone uses the same one so you wind up signing up to many of them where you are faced with each person’s multiple content streams. So we go from following a couple blog feeds to following a couple aggregated content feeds, each one comprising more than one (often half a dozen) individual feeds. An interesting perspective on this paradox of choice is that with all the choice we have we have no-one to blame but ourselves for getting caught up in it all … well, do we? Ramon flashed some user stats including Mxit’s 7.5 million users, 6.5 million of which are South African. Wow!
You know how old folk stories warned young men about going blind through masturbation? Apparently using instant messaging can make you 10% dumber. I wonder if that is cumulative? It turns out, TV does a similar thing so I think I am a goner.
A couple good points are to keep company policies updated to keep up with changing technologies, unsubscribe from email newsletters and instead subscribe to feed versions (if they exist) and just don’t check email first thing in the morning (sorry Danie) – rather do the real work first thing in the morning and check your email later in the day. This is an interesting one because my daily workflow has started with a review of my email first thing in the morning and processing my email to zero so I can start the work. Maybe I should rather process my email before I close off each day, keep Mail.app closed until later the next day and rather get started with the real work when I start work.
Ramon’s tip for stimulating anticipation and excitement in a relationship: cut digital conversations with your significant other without warning and attribute the interruption to a network failure, thus keeping the fires burning … (Simone wasn’t impressed with this technique)
All the technological buzz means we don’t get to relax all that much so Ramon suggested a day a month/week when all technology is turned off completely so you can unplug fully and really relax. Not a bad idea although he suggested turning off mp3 players … I am not sure I can leave my iPod at home …
Ramon gave a punt for Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-hour Workweek, which I have heard about and have been thinking about reading (right after GTD and Iain M Banks’ latest, both of which are still sitting beside my bed). I think my preference is to buy the audiobook though. I spend more time with my iPod than somewhere I can ready a paper book.
Another tip I like is to change your voicemail message to ask people not to leave a voice message and to rather send an sms or email.