Inspecting gadgets

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in electronic devices.

I remember opening up my table-top PacMan game, curious to see its inner workings, although I never really figured them out. (I failed circuit-building in my high-school computer science class.) I lugged my weighty electronic clock/pen with me all through Grades 7 and 8, and even now, presumably older and wiser, I still wrestle with the urge to buy such tech toys as handheld computers or MP3 players.

What stops me, however, apart from my meagre earnings, is the realization that I don’t actually need that stuff. I use a paper day-timer, wear a stylish analogue watch, and make frequent use of payphones to do a good deal of work, saving money in the process, even if I use my calling card for long-distance interviews.

I know I’m bucking several trends here. I know that I fail miserably to meet the standards set by Dave Chalk or Rick Broadhead, and that young people probably snigger as they see me dig for quarters, instead of snapping open the latest cell phone or PDA to remotely check my e-mail.

But I don’t mind. My tech system works perfectly fine for the work that I do, so long as I can make it to a Net-enabled computer. And last year’s desktop beige box is fine by me, so long as it runs.

So why is it that enterprise users are going ga-ga over gadgets? Do PDAs or “smart” phones really improve efficiency or lighten workloads?

I doubt it. We print more, send more and save more information than ever before, and no amount of technology is going to alter this course. In fact, judging from the signs, it’s going to get worse.

A new study from a researcher at University of Surrey in Britain claims that e-mail has increased the use of paper in offices by 40 per cent. Fax, e-mail and instant messaging have all contributed to the merciless slaughter of trees.

A related news blurb from a meeting of the Australian Computer Society in Sydney outlines how corporate spam and cross-device synchronization can snarl users with inbox log-jams. Why send information around the world if you only need to see it once you’re back at the office?

For me, the problem is twofold. Corporate higher-ups are demanding greater accessibility and flexibility from employees, which means IT plans have to include more mobile and versatile technology than ever before. How this all gets managed is an open question.

Users are also to blame. Remember how you once ground the department’s network to a halt with that punch-Dave-Letterman-in-the-face game you got through e-mail? (Well, I certainly do.) The same thing is now happening with employees who bring in PDAs and cell phones from home and use them for work. Who’s responsible for fixing technical problems? Are staff using these devices in accordance with the employer’s guidelines? Do employees get compensated for their costs?

It’s not that I think these devices don’t belong in the enterprise, we just haven’t had enough discussion about their role in overall IT strategies.

Until we do, I say put down that over-priced calculator and get back to work.

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