Complete the following sentences:
Without my computer, I'd be . . .
Without my BlackBerry, life would be . . .
Without my cell phone, my boss would be . . .
The answers that might enter your mind when you read those questions include "paralyzed," "chaotic," "lost."
There's no doubt that technology makes our lives easier, if not a little crazier, since we're able to communicate with each other from just about anywhere at any time.
But what happens when our technology fails us? When it makes our lives more difficult than when we were still dinosaurs using pen and paper, ditto machines and phones that just rang when we weren't at our desks? I'd guess most of us have stories about how technology has sunk us.
Just last week at my workplace, for instance, our e-mail went down. Oh, the horror. The newsroom was abuzz with shouts of disbelief as the day wore on without this instrument not even available to us a few years ago. People were giving away their silly Yahoo e-mail addresses to sources, allowing a peek inside their private lives where e-mail addresses are named for pet parakeets.
The next day, when e-mail was fully restored, it reminded me just how much better life is when this technology I so rely on actually works.
As in the case of a local lobbyist who recently discovered that a little innocent (ahem) BlackBerry message could have cost her a client. Her advice? "Never EVER use BlackBerrys to flirt with a friend after a few martinis. . . . You may end up accidentally sending the e-mail to a client with the same last name."
A BlackBerry message sent is a BlackBerry message sent. There's no way to recall a spur-of-the-moment e-mail. So this woman's client got a late-night message that said, "My house, 30 minutes."
Oops. Imagine the confusion. (Even more confusing if he had taken her up on it. He didn't even see the message until the next day.)
This woman landed on her feet. After she offered a humble and humorous apology, the client remains a client. "Levity gets you out of any situation," she said. However, she also now knows never to mix a martini and a BlackBerry.
Bill Perry, director of public relations with a software company, had a few issues with instant messaging when he worked for a start-up company a couple of years ago. The company was big into IM, to the point where he was shocked at first that people who sat near one another would not get up to ask a colleague their question in person but rather would send a message. Soon, however, he found himself doing the same thing.
When a reporter called him to ask for a contact or two to interview for an article, Perry IM'd two co-workers, thinking they would be best for the task. What he didn't know was that they had been laid off a couple of weeks before. One of those IM'd was less than thrilled that Perry did not know this, while the other was a little easier on him, handling the situation with humor.
"I had grown so accustomed to IM, I wasn't even calling people anymore," Perry said. With instant messaging, people's handles stay the same no matter what. So if Perry had used a more traditional method, such as calling the former employees' work telephone numbers, or even using their work e-mails, he would have been clued in to the fact they were no longer with the company.
And if he had just passed their e-mails along to the reporter, then yes, the reporter would have known he goofed, but he would not have been hit with a doubly embarrassing whammy, making his gaffe in front of the reporter and the two ex-colleagues.
For Tyuana L. Bailey, a government employee, there have been two occasions when she longed for the old telephone and ditto-machine days. She admits she is a tad too dependent on her computer -- to the point where, without it, she has no information. Her calendar, e-mail, contact numbers and more are all sitting in her computer, with no backups anywhere. Then, when a virus crashed her hard drive, she could not retrieve a thing.
Not only did she not have backup, she also is not "one to waste paper, so I had very few hard copies of works in progress," she said. "I didn't know I'd be so angry, but I actually sat down and cried."
She later learned another lesson, and that is to listen to the little voice in your head when it tells you to print out important information. Just in case.
Bailey had a large presentation to make the next day, to a new director, but was too beat the night before to makes prints of the slides she had created for her talk. Sure enough, she came in the next day, and the network was dead. Again she didn't have backup. The meeting was later in the day, but she did not have time to go over her presentation before the meeting. "It was a horrible day . . . and I keep floppy backups of the important stuff now," she said.
"I'm dependent on the office technology, and yet it drives me crazy that I am dependent, if that makes any sense," she said.
Oh, does it ever.
Join Amy Joyce from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com to discuss your life at work. Have an idea for a column? E-mail Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.