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If Only I Had Known!: Fooled Again

06/03/10 5:55PM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) All this week, we're hearing selections from a brunch featuring VPR commentators. They wrote on the theme of, "If Only I Had Known." Mike Martin, a high school teacher in Hinesburg, questions whether our electronic gadgets are all they're cracked up to be.

(MARTIN) Sometimes technology reminds me of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. You        know the episode where Tom has to whitewash a fence and convinces all the other boys to do it for him because it’s fun, not work? Well technology is sort of like that now. I mean, it’s sort of blurred the line between work and play, so that we spend more and more of our free time at home in front of a computer screen convinced we're having fun or maybe getting ahead in our work.

You’ll recall that technology was supposed to make things easier for us, for example email was supposed to be a cheaper, faster, way to improve communication and increase our productivity, but I’m not sure that’s really happened. After all, it’s fairly common now to read and write email during lunch, on weekends, and even during our vacation, but would we have agreed to do the same work, if it meant answering phone calls after dinner or writing office memos on Sundays? I think most of us would’ve have refused, saying that it’s our time to relax and have fun. But now that we look at family pictures, listen to music, and read the Sunday paper on the computer, our work sort of sneaks in. And we end up checking our email when we don’t even need to, out of habit perhaps, or maybe just out of a desire to see if someone’s thinking of us, as if we felt a strange compulsion to make sure that we haven’t missed anything, that we’re still plugged in.

But being plugged in all the time comes at a price, and what’s worse -- we’re often subjected to the sloppy email habits of others. You know the people who always hit reply all? Or the people who share every passing thought through email? Or the co-workers who send an email to the entire company every time they lose a pen or do a walkathon? Clearly, these folks aren’t increasing our productivity.

So sometimes I find myself thinking that computers have been disguised as toys to trick us into working more -- if not always better. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mac Book as much as the next guy, but if I ‘d known where all this was going, I might have piped up and asked no one in particular, "Is technology working for us? Or are we working for technology?"

Check out the "If Only I Had Known!" series page


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