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Jane Malyon

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Has technology helped or hindered our lifestyle?


Jane Malyon loves her gadgets, but thinks that sometimes we need to draw a line.
OK. I admit I have a foot firmly in both camps here. As a self-confessed iPad and Mac lover (just try to part me from my glorious gadgets), I am pitifully adrift if they are out of action or left behind somewhere: Lady Macbeth wailing and tragedy on a grand scale. Alternatively, during a speech I gave for a very successful birthday boy in extremely auspicious surroundings, 6 different phone calls were openly received by businessmen guests at the table – which I thought was very bad manners.
Arguments can be made both ways for Facebook and Twitter too. For some folks, particularly our youngsters, it can marginalise them - making them feel like outsiders whilst still able to see all the shiny happy people making their glorious social plans without them. Alternatively, it's a sharing platform for kindness like no other - and when I was tasked with setting a Guinness World Record last November, for the largest English Cream Tea Party in the world, social networking proved to be the absolute key for spreading the word and gaining the right support (and yes, we got the record!).
Whilst it's fantastic to have our phones, iPhones and BlackBerrys, it also means we are capable of being contacted 24/7 - and sometimes we are. In exchange for the usefulness of being able to make contact and do business anywhere we've given up our privacy, seclusion and timelessness. My husband runs a catering company and we've twice had calls near midnight, just casually asking: 'do you do weddings?' Also, our son missed an important interview because the invitation to attend the 9am Monday meeting was sent at 11pm on the Sunday night before, on the assumption that he'd look at his emails sometime between then and the morning. 
"So even though I adore all the positive aspects of modern technology, I yearn for us to be brave enough to declare time out often and spend quality time with people (and ourselves)."
Privacy invasion and noise pollution, it's all annoying. Who hates to be in the quiet carriage of a train and have other passengers' loud telephone conversations invade your thoughts? And have you ever been bumped into by someone texting as they walk along the pavement? Worse still, we've all heard of vehicle crashes where the driver has been texting/calling whilst driving. 
How many emails do you get daily? I get around 80 on average, out of which about 15 are important. Apart from spam, much of it is just people pestering and sending unsolicited invitations to buy, attend or join something or other. Yet I too send out invitations occasionally - perhaps I'm guilty as charged.
The expectation that a speedy reply is required to all emails is heavy indeed. If my husband doesn't respond to a wedding enquiry email the same day, he's likely to lose that enquirer to another location. The window of time for response is very small. One headmaster told me that if a parent emailed in the morning and he hadn't replied by lunchtime, they would usually re-send that email again in the afternoon, beginning with an assumption that it hadn't been received. No longer is there a 'Thank you for your letter of the 14th' sent many days later.
The answer to the question about technology helping or hindering our lifestyle has to be 'yes'. That is - it both helps and hinders. But we could manage it so much better than we do. Letting it control us rather than the other way round, is a mistake. Letting audible Facebook/email/message pings interrupt our thoughts, is a mistake. Texting and emailing whilst in the company of others who deserve our attention or courtesy is a mistake. If we're spewing out noise when it affects others, it's bad manners. 
However, we can take more control ourselves and should. Let's draw a line - enough with the messages/emails and calls. Back away from the Blackberry - and breathe. Why don't we all set boundaries and sort out automated responses to manage people's expectations of when we're next available.
It comes down to how we choose to use our time plus our values and our manners. Knowing when to schedule a bit of 'downtime' for ourselves is important - and it should be fiercely guarded. Knowing when to prioritise people over technology is crucial for maintaining great relationships too. Have you ever attended a wedding or a funeral where someone's mobile phone goes off at a terribly inopportune moment?
So even though I adore all the positive aspects of modern technology, I yearn for us to be brave enough to declare time out often and spend quality time with people (and ourselves). I have a business that sends out gift boxes all over mainland UK. What thrills me is that the thank you notes we get back indicate that they have been the catalysts for creating perfect memories with special people. Let's make technology work for us and not take over. How about setting an automatic message to remind us to turn off the PC and phone - and go and spend quality time, communicating and smiling directly with lovely people. That's having our cake and eating it!
Jane Malyon is an entrepreneur, business trainer and coach, writer, author of 'Play Nicely' and co-owner of The English Cream Tea Company. You can tweet her at @EasySpeaking


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