Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 4, 2004
Multi-tasking muddles life
Technology creates the expectation you can do everything
By SUZANNE ELSTON
I've always considered myself a "Jackie of all Trades." There's very little that I can't do, once I've set my mind to it. My husband, Brian, has always been a firm supporter of this, "I can do anything" approach to life, which is why I was so surprised by his reaction to my latest project.
I'd been asked to re-design the website of any agency that I work for. I figured that Brian, a senior web manager for a media company would appreciate my efforts. He didn't.
"Suzanne, people spend a long time learning how to design websites," he said.
Hire a professional"I know, I know," was my reply. "But could you please just give what I've done a quick look and tell me what you think?" He checked over what I'd done, gave a few general suggestions, and then as gently as he could said, "A properly designed website takes a qualified designer, and you're not. I would suggest hiring a professional."
Sometimes the truth hurts. I was still busy pondering why I couldn't master web design in 10 hours or less, when Brian quietly said, "Just because I can operate a word processor doesn't mean I'm a writer."
I got the point. The tools of technology haven't made life easier, they have created the unreasonable expectation that everybody can do everything. One hundred years after Henry Ford's dream of specialization of labour revolutionized production, we are back on the assembly line, only this time everybody's expected to do everybody's else's job; and to do it well.
Consider the demise of the personal secretary. As recently as 20 years ago, virtually anyone in a management position had access to secretarial services. Today, they still do, but instead of having someone to "take a letter," they create their own letters, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and yes, even websites, on their laptops. Email, cell phones, electronic call answer, call forwarding and call conferencing have further eroded the once valued role of the secretary to the point where only a few senior executives still have support staff.
Small wonder we feel exhausted all the time. Multi-tasking is no longer optional; it's required. The great free society of the 21st century is built on slave labour - our own.
Career professionalThere is another aspect to this, too. We no longer respect the role of the career professional. Being a personal secretary used to be an honourable profession. Now it's viewed as a dying art, a redundant and unnecessary expense on the corporate bottom line. Why pay someone to do a job that supposedly a little technology can enable you to do for yourself?
The point was driven home last weekend when we stopped at a convenience store. Convenience didn't begin to describe the list of products and services available within. According to the front window, the store had a banking machine, photocopy centre and an ink and toner re-fill service. It also contained a Lotto centre, a betting centre, a Buy and Sell Photo centre. The store sold phone cards, computer accessories and a variety of home hardware supplies.
Intrigued, I ventured inside to see what other services might be offered and discovered a greeting card display and an authorized Beanie Babies buy and trade centre. Remarkably, the tiny retailer still managed to stock the usual supplies of milk, magazines, cigarettes and candy.
We are victims of our own desire. Too much of anything, even a good thing, can be bad for you. What happens to us as individuals, as a society, when we have too much of everything, all of the time? What happens when technology removes the limitations, and creates unbelievably high expectations of what we can accomplish?
I was busy pondering these questions when I received an email from my high-speed Internet supplier.
The email said that my supplier wants my online experience to be enjoyable, so they've introduced something called NetAssistant, "a free interactive Internet support tool. NetAssistant is the fast, easy way to fix your online problems, right from home, 24/7."
Apparently with NetAssistant, I am now my own tech support. I can fix my own email problems, detect defects and fix configuration problems effectively, without wasting time or energy.
I wonder if it knows how to take a letter?
Recommended websites:For a brief history of the assembly line, visit the Antique Automobile Club of America at www.aaca.org/history/assmbl_1.htm or check out the Canadian Museum of Civilization at www.civilization.ca/hist/labour/labh15e.html
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