Cool Tech -- A Cautionary Tale

I was just talking with a friend who was boasting about all the nifty features of his new iPhone, especially all the capabilities it now has to collect data and input. Taking pictures of business cards that can then be text-searched, recording notes, etc. Seemed, indeed, like the result of lots of creative thinking and design. Then I asked him how often he cleaned up all that exciting new input – i.e. emptied his virtual “in-basket” the phone had assisted him in generating. He sheepishly admitted that was a major problem.

This is indicative of the potentially frustrating side of all the new technology. Lots of new and exotic ways to capture, slice, search, and retrieve data. But no matter how slick the gear, nothing has yet been able to replace the personal and individual executive function of actually deciding what, exactly, all that input means. What action, if any, do I need to take about that interaction that produced the business card I can now take a picture of? How critical is that data, for what purpose(s), now or later on? Until the very specific and discrete meaning of data is determined, there is no criterion for how to organize it.

The cool tech is cool, to be sure - but only if you have installed the best practices of processing the exploding plethora of miscellany it fosters. When they come up with an iBrain you can plug into your iPhone, so you actually don’t even have to think about the contents it collects any more – wow! Of course then you’ll have to choose whether you want the Fast-Track-Executive, Laid-Back-Retiree, or Liberal-Arts-Student version of the premier Decision-Support package add-on (for a nominal additional fee).

If you’re betting on the latest feature-laden nifty small and sexy tool to relieve the pressure of life and work, be careful. The weekend it will require to learn how to use it will be a mere drop in the bucket compared with the extra time you’ll need to wade through the additional stuff it may foster.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.