- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

Edward Wrenn has a pager, a cell phone, several e-mail accounts and two voice mail systems. He is no slave to technology, he insists unless it's to his Falls Church company that designs and maintains Web sites.
But not everyone has escaped being overwhelmed by the new technology. Recent studies have shown that many employees are becoming victims of information overload because they are slaves to their mobile phones, pagers and e-mail and voice mail accounts.
Technology experts agree that its up to owners of these devices to fashion their own strategies for survival.
Robert Edelmann, honorary professor at the University of Surrey in Roehampton, and a leading psychologist on the causes of conflict at work, says increasing communication tools can be a plague to people's working lives.
"The psychological downside to having so many streams of instant communication is information overload and increased pressure to respond immediately," he says.
"Such demands are becoming a major stress factor at work. Companies need to take steps to ensure that staff understand how to cope with their messaging levels."
But the struggle of spending hours going through e-mails or faxes or other information mediums need not occur if the user decides to take control.
If they don't start learning how to manage all the information and technology, it will be useless to have it, says Wendell Cochran, associate professor in the School of Communications at American University.
The technology, he says, forces us to think about things in new ways, and it forces us to figure out new ways to do things.
"Eventually most people will find the balance in their life," Mr. Cochran says. "We're still learning what to do with it."
Mr. Wrenn says that sometimes a cell phone is his best friend while driving along Interstate 395 during his bearable 25-minute commute home in Maryland, or while he's traveling several hours around the metro area.
"I got accustomed to [technology] while I was in school, and I learned how to make it beneficial for me," he says.
Mr. Wrenn takes the advice of many technology experts: take control of the technology before it takes control of your life because it's not going anywhere.
In fact, the 93 million wireless phone users today will multiply to nearly 150 million by 2005, according to the Strategist Group, a telecom research and consulting firm in Washington. There are also more than 50 million pagers out there as well.
"The whole point of all these services is to help you manage your life," says Elliot Hamilton, senior vice president of the Strategist Group.
Most people realize that, he says. For example, people can make calls from their cars and return messages while sitting in traffic.
This allows workers to focus on other things upon their return to the office.
"Hopefully, you should just be more efficient." Sometimes, he adds, it seems like it makes it easier to send a short message by e-mail instead of calling.
Mr. Wrenn says technology helps him manage his time better, which in turn makes him more efficient.
"There's probably more to do now, because you can't say 'I never got the phone call.' There's a lot more accountability," Mr. Wrenn says. Paul Liberty, vice president of investor relations for Metrocall Inc., suggests that people will have to find some way to live with technology because it's becoming more and more pervasive in the lives of so many people.
He says there is no decline, but a steady increase in wireless service. "It's a good way for people to be in communication without having to be tethered to their PC in the office, he says.
In fact, Mr. Cochran, like Mr. Liberty and Mr. Wrenn, agrees that people should use what they need. "We should celebrate that all this stuff is available," he says.
People who feel overloaded by technology are those who allow themselves to be, Mr. Cochran says.
"I don't take my phone to the golf course. I have a Palm Pilot, but I'm not very religious about checking it, and I don't have a wireless modem."
Mr. Wrenn says he spends just under an hour going through e-mails every day. But it could take longer. He has his e-mail separated automatically using e-mail folders.
So, he can go straight to the job-related e-mails instead of fiddling through hundreds of spam and personal messages on the clock.
He says he spends more than 12 hours on his cell phone every month. He turns it off when he goes home every evening or when he doesn't want to be disturbed.
"I go home and cut it off," he said. "I don't let it run me."
As for his pager, he only gives the number out to close family members and a few work associates in cases of emergency. "For me, it definitely comes in handy," he says.
The technology isn't going anywhere, says Mr. Hamilton.
In fact, elementary students at Prince George's County public schools are already familiar with cell phones. Sprint PCS, the nation's largest digital wireless network providing service to more than 70 percent of the country's population, donated used phones to the school teachers for a tutorial program to promote relationships between students and teachers.
Additionally, the company's average monthly revenue per user increased to $58 up from $54. That growth, the company said in a report, was attributable to new activation and people using their phones longer.
Total service revenue was more than $1.2 billion, up 23 percent from the previous quarter.
"I think [the technology] is helping to contribute to these product gains that even the fed is looking at. So, we seem to be getting more productive."
Mr. Hamilton says the increased productivity across the nation may not mean people are working longer hours, but efficiently using time by using the technology.

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