Friday, December 18, 2009

Top 5 Technological Time-Wasters

Five Biggest Time-Wasters in a Technological Era
Technology is helpful, even needful. Yet, frequently it can be a regrettable case of minutes-wise-hours-foolish.... Technology saves time wonderfully. Too much technology wastes time absolutely.
Time and tide waits for no man. Time past is never to be recovered. A stitch in time saves nine. There are lots of proverbs surrounding time. We look at our watches daily, to keep track of our schedules and appointments. We browse our calendars and our digital devices to make sure we are ahead of time. Many commercials highlight 'saving' time so that we can spend it on more 'worthwhile' activities. I saw a bank commercial the other day, that simply by banking with them, we can shave off precious minutes in our banking so that we can channel them to our other activities. Like 'penny wise pound foolish,' the technological equivalent is 'minutes-wise-hours-foolish.' Our human tendency is to squander seconds saved, into meaningless hours doing other stuff. This is not helped with the bulging technology options available to the unsuspecting user.

In our modern technological age, it is easy to waste our precious time by random and aimless electronic surfing. It can be randomly searching out cable channels with our TV remote control. It can be aimless surfing of various Internet websites. It can be compulsive checking of email, to see if people has responded to our queries. It can be continuously 'liking' and 'commenting' on visual notifications on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. It can also be addictive playing of electronic games, increasingly made free of charge to any connected Internet user.

Source of Time-Wasting: The Restlessness DNA
The crux of the matter is, many of us tend to be fidgety and easily distracted. We inherit a restless DNA similar to the one possessed by the first murderer in world history: Cain. It is this restlessness that makes us easily distracted, deceived, and even dangerous. Think attention seeking. Think fame lusting. Think sex predators online. It is known that lonely people can become potential online prowlers scavenging for innocent young victims. It is restlessness that tempts one to try new things that are unorthodox, like illegal drugs. It is restlessness that entices one to leave their islands of holy contentment toward uncharted territories of unholy temptations. It is restlessness that deceives us into always assuming that when nothing is happening, something is wrong.

I remember during my training as a power engineer, my professor told us a story about a young professional engineer left to man the control room one day. It was one of the most forgettable days ever for that young rookie. On a typical day, assumed to be serene and normally quiet, the control lights in the room start flashing for attention. The sounds of the alarm is not just audible. Mixed with panic and uncertainty, it turns deafening. Without the presence of an experienced engineer, the young man feels lost and does the only thing in his mind: Call his supervisor. After several rings, the sleepy voice on the other side sounds like a guardian angel. The supervisor said: “You should do nothing.” True enough, after a few minutes, the systems automatically corrected itself and there was peace on earth and goodwill overflowing from the four-chambered heart of that young man, with sighs of relief bubbling out of his nostrils and ears.

Unfortunately, too many people have fallen prey to their restless inside, to participate in all kinds of activities outside, even meaningless ones. This brings me to the 5 main time-wasters of the technological era. It is because of our constant restlessness inside us, that we are easy pickings for these 5 time wasters. It is hoped that by sharing these, I can encourage more people to be aware that sometimes, 'doing nothing' is a good thing.

Here's the list of my top 5 time-wasters.

1) Television
I remember the old days, where colour Tvs are rarely seen. There are only 2 or 3 television channels to choose from, and screening begins only around 3pm and the last program ends around 10am. My friends and I often gather in a shop that houses the only TV in town. Some people call those times a 'dinosaur' age.

Nowadays, multiple channels are the norm. 24-hour programming is not only common but expected. We buy Digital TV and High Definition screens to bridge the gap between virtual and reality. We adopt new technological advances for their quality and the speed of progress. Contrary to how people justify their latest flat screen TV purchase, television remains one of the biggest time wasters in our technological era. Proponents use to argue that there are useful programs like news to inform us about what is happening around the world, with cable to advice us about food menus, latest technologies, educational programs like National Geographic and Discovery channels. Yet, with the extensive number of cable channels to choose from, channel surfing is becoming a 'program' in itself. The latest remote controls allow one to frequently switch from channel to channel hoping to catch something of interest. It baffles me to see that the problem is compounded by so many different remote controls that we need a CONTROL of controls.

If you ever want to see channel surfing in action, wait for commercial breaks.

I have spoken to many, including pastors and one of the common addictions they have is TV addiction. People tend to watch too much TV. I remember reading about an experiment years ago in a small town struggling with a low birth rate. The city authorities decide to ask the TV stations streaming programs to the town to stop programming from 10am. Remarkably, without the TV to occupy their night time, people go to bed early. Many couples end up having more sex. More sex means more pregnancies. More pregnancies mean more babies.

Such forms of population control also work the other way. A city in China uses television programming to the other effect, by making sure most of the good programs are screened past the midnight hour. Tired couples after watching the late night movies crawled back to bed dead tired. Any libido or desire for physical intimacy, if any, soon gets drowned out by snores by the sleeping partner.

TV producers are becoming more ingenious in their programming. Stations compete for eyeballs using seductive images, picturesque scenes and glimpses of the best scenes of any upcoming movies. They encourage people to 'stay tuned' or 'don't go away.' They do everything possible to keep the TV watcher glued to the screen. Far often than not, viewers are reluctant to press the OFF button on the remote control. Whether it be sex, population control, or sheer mindless TV channel surfing, the TV time-waster wins, hands down.

Point is, watching some TV is informative. Watching too much TV is purely a waste of time. Worse, TV watching exposes us to a double whammy: Time wasting AND losing opportunity to build meaningful connections with people around us.

2) Internet Surfing
Some friends I know does not have a TV. Some say that they have no time for TV. Yet, with the way the Internet is integrating multimedia with text, many have utilized video streaming as an alternative to the traditional TV. In this way, the Internet surfer is not immune from the problems surrounding the TV in the earlier section.

Internet Surfing is the second time waster of the technological age. The rise of multiple feature rich browsers has aggravated the problem. With a single browser with tabbed features, one can open simultaneous web pages and to switch between them at anytime. Pop-ups, screen advertisements, box highlights, colourful icons, seductive sounds or music, creative catch words on web pages all excel in distracting the Internet user from his/her original purpose of using the computer. I remember a time when I wanted to do research on a particular paper I was working on. After checking the latest library catalogue, upon logout, there was a news flash. I clicked on it, and was immediately drawn to the window of juicy information. From movie stars gossip, to the latest sports craze, the Internet is a formidable distributor of information that we don't really need to do our jobs or write our papers. Chances are, if anything is newsworthy, the moment we chat with friends, they would have told us not only the full details of the gossip but their opinions as well. The astute reader will soon realize that most news flash are mere repetition of each other. Originals are few. Useful ones are rare.

On top of the mostly useless information whose main duty is to capture eyeball attention, the longer loading time due to so background computer software like Java applets, shockwave or clunky multimedia apps waste more time. One program which I found out recently is LeechBlock which is a Firefox add-on. This add-on allows one to customize several restrictions, like amount of time allowed on any particular website, or the allowable time-frame for dwelling on any website. For example, if one spends too much time on Facebook, one can set a daily limit on this site. When the allowable time is up, the add-on will disable the browser from displaying Facebook pages until the next allowable time frame arrives.

Point: Purposeful Internet surfing can be helpful. Too much aimless surfing is not.

3) Email
While sending and receiving emails are free, the cost of the connection or the time spent to read and reply to mails are not. In fact, the speed of response can be emotionally distressing as well. Once an email is sent, it cannot be retrieved. Hence, one time wasting aspect of email is hasty sending and replying. There are some emails in which attempts to clarify becomes misconstrued into bigger misunderstandings.

In a nutshell, there are limits to email as a form of human communications. Sometimes, the best way to communicate well is to give up the convenience of email, in favour of coffee with the friend, colleague or relative concerned. Not only can one enjoy the companionship of others, physical presence and plain talk removes the guess-work one has to do when it comes to email. We know that email is rich in text but poor in tones. Emails are speedy but carelessly worded mails sent too quickly often work against us. It can not only tarnish the person unfairly, but damage a long-time relationship severely.

How many times do we check our emails? Rarely does anyone check it only once a day. With cell phones and tiny devices that have email capabilities, people check emails as often as they go to the restrooms. Email, for all its merits and advantages, left unchecked is a perennial time waster.

Point: Email for all its conveniences, is not meant to totally replace human communication. Get a life offline too!

4) Social Networking
Facebook is an amazing tool that is fast overtaking traditional telephone calls. On one screen, people can communicate and chat with multiple individuals, even groups. Compared to a one-to-one long distance telephone call which charges by the minute, Facebook supports a many-to-many Internet communications that is largely free!

In his new book called 'Church of Facebook,' Jesse Rice makes an accurate observation on this social phenomena, that people's search for happiness is directly related to being meaningfully connected. I agree wiith Rice, as this is a common psychological observation. Moreover, Rice himself is a trained counselor, with a psychology major. People needs to be connected. They want it. They need it. They crave it badly. Sometimes, too badly.

When a person craves for attention from people, it is essentially exposing one to all kinds of attention, both wanted and unwanted attention. The recent Tiger Woods fall from grace is an example of how a star that rises to fame in quick time, descends to shame in double quick time. A friend of mine avoids social tools like Facebook for one reason: avoid unnecessary attention or controversy.

I am not saying that we should avoid Facebook or Twitter. What I am suggesting is that we are watchful about the time and attention we spend on these online activities. Like what people used to say, “too much of a good thing, is not necessarily good.

Point is: Wisdom is knowing when and when NOT to be networking.

5) Electronic Games
This used to be the top time-waster. Despite the current social networking fad, I think games retain an untouchable niche. After all, how can we explain the continued popularity of companies such as Sony Playstation PS III, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Xbox and all these gadgets. Offline, people can challenge their friends during a weekend sleepover. Online, people interact widely with friends and strangers to attempt some kind of a record score. People will readily skip sleep just to be on the high score list of the games they play. Students miss the first class in the morning. Workers call in sick. All this because of an insatiable desire to see one's name on the high-scores. The vicious cycle continues as other players take up the challenge to beat the current champion by committing even more time and energy to displace the top gamers.

Games can be highly addictive. It is not simply a potential time waster. It can be a 'person grabber' turning the all night gamer into resembling all-day walking zombies. Play the games with fun, but know your limits. Perhaps, the word 'free' is deceptive. If time is money, playing games is definitely costly.

POINT: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All play and no work makes Jack a poor boy. Appropriate play and diligent work makes Jack a wise boy.

Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Let me give a redemptive perspective here, lest I be accused of being a technological killjoy. I am not saying people cannot have fun. I am aware of the pop song by Cyndi Lauper, 'Girls just want to have fun,' as a plea for independence from perceived control by harsh parents or strict institutions. I may have come down hard on the five top time-wasters above. Yet, I write with some level of understanding as I have experienced all five of them at different stages of my life. I know the dangers and the benefits. I understand the need and the wants. I have even given talks to encourage people to be engaged with the latest technology in town. Having said this, let me encourage those of us who are 'addicted' to these tools. Do not despair. Your identity does not depend on your visibility via these devices. So what if people does not respond to your posts. So what if your email goes unread in the inboxes of even your trusted friends. So what if your friends no longer want to challenge you on the newest PSIII game. None of these 5 technological things define you. Rather, how best you use them, depends on how well you know yourself. Far too often, we allow the things we do to define our personality. It even creates platforms for people to take potshots at our reputations simply because they do not agree with us. Do not despair.

Our identity is not based on cool technological tools. Neither are they dependent on our ability to engage others through the social medium. The time will come, where we will get some level of recognition by man. The time will come where we will be acknowledged or our contributions whether offline or online. Above all, the time will come when we meet the Creator of all the world, who will judge us not on the basis of what we have done or not done, but on the basis of what Christ has done. Our identity does not depend on technogical savvy hands or fingers. It does not waver according to the latest Internet fad. It stands firmly on the promises of God. The best we can do when we feel restless, is to pray and to trust God, that the time will come. In the meantime, listen to Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians. It can be a healthy correction to our mad desire for fame and attention.
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, NIV)

Technology saves time wonderfully. Too much technology wastes time absolutely. Let's strive to know the difference.


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