Technology – friend or foe?

I never used to have a desk at home!

There are days when I think technology’s great.  It’s now so easy to find out information, keep in contact with people, travel around, take and print photos.  I could go on…and on…and on.  Why then are there also days when I’m not so sure about its advantages; when it prompts feelings of great unease and a longing for that glorious age of fountain pens, manual typewriters and party lines. 

It’s hard to remember days without computers, mobile phones, digital cameras, interactive whiteboards, cars, dishwashers, and yet my first job was at an American bank, where much to the envy of my contemporaries, I had a golfball typewriter. Yes, that’s right, a golfball typewriter.   I didn’t have to keep hitting the carriage return lever, unjam keys and get covered in ink, or worry about correction fluid and Tippex paper.  My nails were beautifully manicured; my errors could be lifted off with the pressing of a key, although they were still obvious on the carbon copies.  Until the arrival of the photocopier that is and then that dirty black carbon paper was a thing of the past, as was that peculiar contraption, the stencilling machine.  Now endless amounts of photocopies could be generated, circulated and then filed in the ever-expanding filing systems necessary to accommodate the ever-increasing amounts of paper. 

 Next, computers appeared and with them word processing packages.  Amazing – now all those errors could be corrected before printing the document and amendments were so easy, add a sentence here, delete a word there, and send to print.  Another perfect document…which came back with a slight amendment, and back again with yet another one, and back again because perhaps that phrase should have been there after all, and back again because another name should be added to the cc list, and the whole process became a bit sloppy and tedious because changes were so easily made and so it was less important to get it right first time.  The wastepaper bins were overflowing. 

Then the telex was replaced by e-mail.  No more punched tape being fed through machines.  Just type the message, hit send and away it goes.  Easy.  Except it’s perhaps too easy with my mailbox full of mail which I’m expected to answer at all times of the day and night.  Not to mention identifying the spam mail from the important mail, and the important mail from the numerous copies of the important mail with other people’s comments added, and the numerous copies of the important mail with other people’s comments added from the less important mail, and the less important mail from the totally unimportant mail.  At least the post was delivered two or three times a day and could be dealt with in the intervening gap.  Now the e-mails arrive continuously and if a reply isn’t immediate, then there’s a phone call asking if the e-mail’s been read, which all makes it very hard to concentrate on getting the job done and often quite impossible to get it done at all. 

Once, when I left the office at 5 o’clock, I left the office and all the work there behind me and could look forward to an evening where my time was my own, to do with as I wished.  Now my work comes with me like a faithful furry friend, on laptops and memory sticks, text messages and mobile calls, e-mails and company message boards.  It intrudes into every moment of my day, before work, during work and after work.  I can never switch off.  It can come on holiday with me and with even the remotest corners of the world having an internet cafe, I am constantly expected to be available and to keep in touch. 

So whilst I don’t deny that technology is great and has brought us many advantages, I do think that it is not without its serious drawbacks, especially in terms of our stress levels and mental health.  Anyway, I’ve got to go, my phone’s buzzing.  “Hi, what’s that, no I haven’t checked my e-mail, hold on a minute…”

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