Has technology made us super-efficient, multi-tasking worker bees or just stressed-out, time-wasting drones?
The debate is not likely to be settled any time soon in this digital age, but anyone who has given a presentation at a meeting, only to eye their coworkers discreetly scrolling through e-mail messages, would agree that some restraint is needed. And that's not even counting the more egregious displays of over-the-top wireless behavior, such as texting while driving.
How important is it to be connected to e-mail at all hours of the day? Would limiting BlackBerry use actually make us MORE productive? Would it bring some much-needed civility, not to mention balance, to our time out of the office?
Consider these suggestions culled from MarketWatch and other sources:
• E-mail emergencies are overblown. If someone really needed to talk to you, they'd call.
• Don't be obsessive. You're not that important. Constantly checking e-mail or text messages will also make you unpopular.
• Create a schedule and stick to it. Check your e-mails and voicemail at certain points during the day, and let your colleagues know about it. Some people spend morning and evening times on e-mail. Others will limit BlackBerry checks to work hours. Some check e-mail only once an hour.
• Don't be rude. Don't even peek at your BlackBerry when someone is making a presentation, when lunching with friends, when attending a class, or during a meeting. GE Healthcare Financial Services in Chicago has started a campaign to encourage workers to turn off their wireless devices during meetings. Its motto is "Show Respect, Disconnect," the Chicago Tribune reported. And according to one recent survey, 31 percent of senior executives think it's never acceptable to check your BlackBerry in a meeting, the UK's Guardian reported.
• Think about other cultures. Airbus has announced that starting in September, mobile phones and BlackBerry devices can be used by airline passengers during flights. Graham Lake, chief commercial officer of OnAir, a joint venture between Airbus and SITA, a communications services company, said, "While some Mediterranean cultures find it polite to put your phone on the table during a meeting and answer when it rings, this is not done in the U.K. The challenge inherent in aircraft is that they are by definition a place where cultures mix," the International Herald Tribune reported.
• Don't be dangerous. Don't text or compose e-mails when driving. It's not only stupid, it may be illegal.
Despite these common-sense rules, many people think their hand-held devices are giving them a competitive edge, but that's not necessarily so.
David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan told The New York Times: "Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes. Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information."
And once interrupted, it can take 15 minutes on average to get back to tasks that take some brain power, according to a study of Microsoft workers.
In fact, Jonathan B. Spira, chief analyst at Basex, a business-research firm, puts a rough estimate on the cost of interruptions to the American economy: nearly $650 billion a year.
Julie Grzeda, managing director of human resources at GE Healthcare, told the Tribune that people are so drawn to their handheld devices that they can forget their manners. "I use a BlackBerry myself," she said. "There's no question I've been guilty of looking at it when I shouldn't have. My husband has scolded me."