Think technology is a simple little plug-in to the human work experience that can be added or removed with reckless abandon and no fallout? Yeah, right. Try cutting off your thumbs.
When my editor first called, this article seemed like a pretty straightforward assignment. Spend a week gradually removing technology from my home office. On Monday, I'd start with my cell phone and printer. Then on Tuesday, I'd ditch the fax machine and PC fax functions. By Wednesday, I'd lose access to e-mail, voice mail, caller ID, call waiting--and my telephone headset, just for good measure. Finally, on Thursday, the PC would feign the fritz--and everything would carry over into Friday.
The premise of the assignment was to discover--from the standpoints of business productivity and general psychology--how I'd handle being disconnected for five days from the technology that powers my home office.
I quickly learned the extent of my dependence on technology. My typical day begins with turning on my PC. With a hum in my ears and the monitor's glow on my face, this is my daily reveille. A message light blinking on my phone or e-mail in my in-box--these are the anchors of my day. Without them, how would I react? Focused and undeterred, or rudderless and adrift?
"When something goes wrong electronically, people get extremely upset because they rely so heavily on technology," says Gloria Donaldson, principal and corporate psychologist with Reed Organization, an Oak Park, Illinois, management consulting firm. "They're accustomed to responding quickly. If they can't do that, it causes a lot of stress and anxiety."
Donaldson characterized me as an "addict" when I said I had begged my editors to let me check my e-mail twice during the week-long assignment. This from a woman who confesses she "would just be paralyzed" without her cell phone.
It was disconcerting to sit in an office where capable hardware was sitting idle. Something about it didn't feel right. It was then that I realized how much of a test this assignment was going to be.
Jeffrey Zbar is a homebased journalist and author of Home Office Know-How (Upstart Publishing). Now that he's back in the technology saddle again, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org