April 23

Five common myths about technology and productivity

by Trish Smith

Since the Industrial Revolution, people have assumed that more technology = more productivity. If the mimeograph is good, the photocopier must be better! If faxes are good, scanners are better! If email is good, texting is…well, you get the idea.

While these are (or were) useful tools, the belief that anything shinier and newer is going to automatically make “the job” (whatever job that happens to be) easier, quicker or more enjoyable is deceptive.

Here are five common myths about technology and productivity that most of us probably believe, to one extent or another.

Myth #1: Constant connectivity is a good thing.

We’ve all worked in those offices – where every employee expected to be reachable at every moment, and several hundred emails a day is par for the course. There are jobs and projects where that level of connectedness is necessary, but those are few and far between.

For everyone else, that level of “checking in” stifles, rather than encourages, creative thinking and productivity. After all, when most of the workday is spent emailing other members of the team and checking in with the boss, how is there any time left to actually do the job?

Myth #2: Email is better. For everything.

As much as email has changed our lives for the better, the idea that email works for every situation is patently false. Angry customer? Potential client? You might be better off reaching out to them via phone.

Work on curbing that reflexive need we all seem to have, to use email for any and every communication.

There are countless stories about conflicts that were caused – or aggravated – by a misunderstood email. If you want to avoid causing these types of situations in the future, remember that there are definite times when email is a bad idea: when you’re emotional, when you’ve wronged someone (an emailed apology can sometimes be perceived to be as insulting as the original affront), when you’re unsure what you want, or when you simply have nothing to add.

Email is nothing more than a tool – a potentially useful one. But like any other, it can be misused.

Myth #3: Everyone is as computer-literate as I am.

This is a myth that’s become more and more prevalent as the years have passed. After all, computers have been a part of our society for the past twenty years. How could any adult not have become fairly computer literate in that time?

Sure, in the beginning, there were holdouts – usually older people who had spent most of their adult life without computers. But now, when our own grandparents have computers, it’s assumed that everyone must be at least somewhat capable of using the basics – email, word processing, and the web.

Well, it’s simply not true.

The “digital divide” – the divide between those with access to technology and those without – is still there, shrinking though it might be. Those who are especially likely to be on the wrong side of this divide include low-income persons, the less educated, and children of single-parent households, particularly those who live in rural areas and central cities.

Business owners, politicians, and anyone who’s trying to reach the general population need to realize that potential customers and constituents may not be able to access email or a website, or order products online. We’re not all on the bleeding edge – or even the cutting edge.

Myth #4: Computers have replaced the pen.

This myth is related to myth #2, about email always being better. But it goes beyond that. The belief that “computers are better” often creates the belief that there is no place for pen and paper. But there are at least three times when pen and paper are superior to computers:

  • Visual learners. For those of us who are visual learners, we benefit from using a whiteboard, flip chart, or even a pad and paper to physically map out our ideas.
  • Speed. It is sometimes faster – and more productive – to scribble away on a piece of paper. Not every idea requires starting up the computer and creating a document. There’s something to be said for a small notebook for jotting down ideas.
  • Tactility. There’s at least two sensory processes (touch and sight) involved in the writing-down of ideas on a piece of paper, that we don’t experience in the same way when we use computers. That experience can be essential to the thought process, and can’t be replaced by typing on a keyboard.

Myth #5: Newer is always better.

The rate of technology development is increasing exponentially. The time it takes for new hardware or software to appear on the market has gone from years to months. Last year’s “cutting edge” cell phone has already been surpassed by at least one newer model. Laptops purchased in 2008 have been surpassed at least twice by sleeker, faster versions.

But before running out to replace that “old” cell phone or laptop, think carefully.

If the newer version hadn’t come out, would the current versions still be enough? Are they able to get the job done?

This applies to businesses as well as individuals. Making purchases based simply on the fact that a “new version” now exists is a waste of money. Of course, there are times when newer technology is necessary to the business (such as with new versions of operating systems, which have important security updates). And who doesn’t love unwrapping that box with the brand new computer? But to assume that just because a newer version comes out, we need it, is an incorrect – and expensive – fallacy.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide how technology will bring us success in our lives and our careers. Remember that technology is a tool, like any other. How we use it – or how we let it use us – will be an important step toward that success.

Are you holding on to any of these myths? Have you overcome any of them, and if so, how? Share with us in the comments – we’d love to hear about it!




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