Step Away from the PDA and Reengage

Twenty years ago ‘information overload’ was all the rage.

”Oh my God,” everyone said, ”how are we possibly going to process all

of the information that we’re creating day after day? We’re buried in

information coming out of copiers, reports and memoranda.”

Well, here we are a couple of decades later and we’re not only buried in

information, we’re paralyzed by it — document management applications

notwithstanding. And it’s not just technology professionals. CNN’s Wolf

Blitzer’s new Situation Room has no fewer than eight screens flashing and

refreshing behind him as he randomly switches from story to story. All

kinds of information is pouring out as you try to track moving images on

eight ever-changing monitors.

How can anyone focus meaningfully on anything? Is this a plot by the

makers of adult ADD drugs?

The best example of this came at a meeting I recently attended. I watched

all of the middle-aged guys pull out their weapons of choice: cell

phones, crackberries, laptops, pagers and what are now considered

old-fashioned PDAs. Each one of them laid their devices in front of them

like they were trying to create some kind of cockpit.

”Mine is smaller than yours,” I heard one of them say, as another

challenged everyone to a digital race. ”I bet I can download more and

faster than anyone here.”

These people are idiots.

When the meeting began, everyone scattered — not from the room but from

the subject at hand. The poor guy who was leading the meeting might as

well have been herding cats. Some of the ‘participants’ were checking

email, text mail and video mail. Others were poking at their PDAs with

little sticks as their heads bobbed up and down. Others rudely forgot to

silence their cockpits which lit up, groaned and vibrated throughout the


What the hell was I doing at this meeting? Everyone was about

half-checked out, servicing the devices that keep them connected with

other half-checked in colleagues scattered throughout the world.

No one can drink from a fire hose.

The inefficiency, frustration and stress built into our personal

information processing (PIP) systems is staggering. Yet we keep our

little darlings on all the time, afraid to miss some important comment

made by half-witted professionals pecking and bobbing at meetings all

over the world.

Here are some suggestions for managing the PIP process:

  • Turn off the damned devices when you enter a meeting — unless

    you’re deliberately trying to disrespect the meeting’s organizers and


  • Stop answering email quickly. All this does is accelerate the

    addiction. Let senders wait a few days before you respond. After they

    realize you are still alive, they will get the message.

  • Try to squeeze everything you do into one device. I am tired of

    looking at people with three or four devices — all with different shapes

    and sounds — hanging onto their belts. Who do these people think they

    are? Someone needs to tell them that really important people don’t wear

    tool belts to work.

  • Discipline yourself and your colleagues to think and analyze rather

    than react (as quickly as possible) to the constant stream of mostly

    irrelevant information. Once you start ignoring stupid messages, people

    will respect you more.

  • Disable the ”reply all” capability in your email client. Most of

    the ‘all’ would rather not be bothered.

    I suspect there’s a business here. Certainly the current rage in coaching

    could focus on these problems. Hell, there might even be an opportunity

    to develop a patch that would help addictees kick many of their PIP