Data, data, everywhere and not a moment to think

There is no logic that could ever explain how Blackberry users do not smash the smug little device into the wall. Those wretches in the pub at lunchtime huddled over that tiny keyboard, trying to respond to a support call on the other side of the world, have they no soul, no fight left in them?

The result of our collective apathy towards this new invasion of our time and thoughts has given the green light for more torment. In essence, we have said that Blackberries are acceptable and that there is no limit to what we will endue at the hands of our paymasters.

So, having successfully juggled with e-mail (everywhere), voice mail, snail mail, mobile phones and faxes (okay, that could be pushing it), we should now brace ourselves for the use of instant messaging, video conferencing and other ‘team-based collaboration tools’ (only an analyst could come up with such a dreadful collective expression and not laugh at themselves) as the next channels in our queue of priorities.

A report from industry analyst Gartner argues that by 2008 we will have spent over $1 billion on technologies that allow us to work more effectively as a team. This news is ironic really when you consider the number of meetings and conversations that are interpreted and taken over by a mobile phone call or an inpatient Blackberry. Once we have these additional channels to consider and respond to, we are likely to spend more money on other technologies to ‘free up our time’ that has been swallowed answering an ever growing number of devices and the cycle continues.

How much information can we take? More to the point, how much information do we really need to do our jobs better? Surely, this is a case of less is more. Technology is wonderful and has transformed business, but this doesn’t mean we should use it indiscriminately. If we continue to take on more channels, there is a danger that we become nothing more than elaborate call handlers ourselves (and in doing so run the risk of being outsourced).

Doubtlessly, as we are replaced with a generation of people used to multi-tasking and holding multiple conversations over multiple devices at the same time, these criticisms will look tired and bitter. While this may be true, there is a point to be made about our working roles. Do younger people who excel at this kind of multi-tasking have the ability to see the bigger picture? Do they have the skills to negotiate and make deals face-to-face? We all know that real business is only done on the shake of the hand, and while this may change as communication continues to accelerate with a reckless enthusiasm, the rate of change makes it hard to ascertain the impact on business of this cultural communication shift.

For now, it would be wise to put a hold on new communications projects, not to prove Gartner wrong, but just to give ourselves the time to understand how these mediums are changing our jobs and our lives, for better or for worse.