Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

Learning to Properly Use New Technology

31 May 2015 by Jim


New technologies are fun. iPhones are fun, apps are fun, the Internet is fun. But something being fun not necessarily means we should do it all the time. Just like meth.

But iPhones and apps and the Internet aren’t just fun, they are useful, too!‘ I hear you say. I agree. They’re useful in the right quantities.

The overuse of e-mail

Just look at e-mail. Compared to writing a handwritten letter, folding it and putting it into an envelope that you need to put stamps on and then bring to the postal office, it’s so much easier to compose an e-mail and send it off in a few clicks. It should have reduced the time we spend on written communication a lot. And yet it hasn’t. Almost every week a new app is released to ‘better manage your inbox’ and ‘get to inbox zero’. These are symptoms of the overuse of e-mail. When I see screenshots from developer’s phones and the badge on their e-mail app is in the hundreds of unread messages, I don’t understand how they get to that situation. In my own inbox, there are at most 5 messages at any one time, not because I religiously try to keep the number at 5, but because the vast majority of e-mails I get are spam and immediately put into the spam folder. Everything work-related is dealed with immediately and archived. I think I’ve got a good hold on e-mail, and I certainly don’t spend more than 10 minutes on it per day. So why is it so difficult for some to handle their e-mails effectively? It seems that people are unable to properly prioritise.

Todo apps, a sign of procrastination

Todo apps are another symptom of the same condition. A person ready to tackle their important tasks does fine with just pen and paper or even just his memory to remember what to do when. It’s not that difficult. If you ask me what is important to do for me today, I don’t need an app to know what the crucial tasks are. If you prefer an app for that, that’s fine, but if you spend hours looking for todo list apps or migrate to a new one every two weeks, you’re doing it wrong. You’re actually just procrastinating and not getting your tasks done. And downloading a new app promising improved productivity just becomes a way to avoid facing the fact that you’re unproductive. And no amount of apps can cure this problem. Only changing your mind can.

It may make sense for someone like Elon Musk to use specific systems to get everything done. Since he’s trying to save humanity and stuff like that, and since he’s probably thought about his workflow a lot more than I have about mine, I would not tell him how to live his life and what apps and processes he needs and doesn’t need. But for the vast majority of people, a simple calendar or piece of paper is plenty enough. Looking for more complex tools for this job is just a way of making the simple more complicated than it needs to be. And that’s the opposite of optimisation.

History repeats itself

New technologies always change how we live. But maybe they shouldn’t, or at least not too quickly. When the TV was invented, some people were afraid children would stay glued to the screen all day and become dumb. Overall, that did not happen. But in some countries, the US for example, many people do watch hours of TV each day, and for this reason they might not get enough exercise, or eat unhealthily because they want to eat on the couch. They lose thousands of hours of their life to TV. So is TV bad? No, of course not. It’s just a tool to consume information at a distance. But like any other tool, you need to learn how to use it, and that includes learning when not to use it.

While Facebook and other social networks makes it easier for people to connect, some completely forget how to interact in real life with others and get lost in the digital maze of friends. While the Internet makes information easily accessible, some lose half their teenage years glued to Youtube.

Each one of these tools is a great invention, like the car, but only if we learn how to use it to our benefit while minimising the negative side effects can we really reap the rewards. A car is a great way of transportation, but it is less great if you smash into a wall with it because you used it while you were drunk. If you lose your life to a car crash at age 25, your life would have been better if the car had never been invented.

No matter how much we will be able to do from home in the future thanks to the Internet, we should not always do so just because we can. Instead, we should not forget that we have a body that is genetically programmed to move, and a brain that is programmed to socialise with others. All these new gadgets – that I’ve become very fond of – need to be beneficial additions to a healthy human lifestyle, and not tyrannical devices that overpower us and become addictions. They’re supposed to be our tools, and not our masters.

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