Tech takeover

Personal gadgets help today's workers stay connected. Is that a good thing?

Posted: Tuesday, September 05, 2006

BlackBerrys, Sidekicks, cell phones... oh, my! The infiltration of work life into personal life has left many workers feeling overworked and overwhelmed. While technology has helped businesses stay in close contact with clients and employees - with many companies subsidizing cell phone usage and portable digital assistants - it seems work follows us everywhere.

For some, homework did not end in school; it's followed them throughout their career in the form of business calls from home, late night e-mails, and more recently, a techno-hybrid of the two. Projects and deals are being completed more and more outside of the office to accommodate the increasing momentum of business. But the brisk pace of the working world has some asking where the line will be drawn.

"Believe it or not, people used to wait to receive a request by mail and have it answered by mail," says Mark Stevens, author of "Your Management Sucks: Why You Have to Declare War on Yourself... and Your Business" (Crown Business, $25). "Whether we like it or not, our work lives have accelerated. All the things that were supposed to make our lives easier have accelerated the impatience on the other end of the person waiting for a response. So how else [can we] stay connected all the time but with the BlackBerry?"

Open 24 hours

For those who have them, company-expensed gadgets can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. Sure, it's great to be able to expense a cool new toy, but that could mean giving up your free time at home.

"I sleep with my BlackBerry - literally," says Stevens. "What does this have to do with successful entrepreneurial practices? Everything. Ideas are the engine of business, and when I have them - and I often do - I can send them instantly to clients and employees 24/7."

However, some conspiracy theorists believe that providing portable technology is simply another way to squeeze every last bit of work out of a limited number of employees. While that may be the case for a few, that is not the case for the majority of tech-savvy businesses, says Stevens.

"It doesn't enable people to have less employees, it just helps you to stay ahead of the barrage of e-mails that everyone is beset with today," he explains. "Sure, some embrace it and others don't, but it's become a fact of life like death and taxes. Either you're in the game or you're not, and it all depends on whether success is what you're after."

Cautious approach

Despite the intent, some experts caution chronic gadget users against some health issues that could arise. This is particularly true when an employee works on a computer all day and frequently uses his or her PDA during downtime.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, two hours of computer work leads to Computer Vision Syndrome in 80 percent of employees. According to OSHA's Web site, "CVS is the most common repetitive stress injury brought about by video display terminal work, despite the fact that it is not as well known as some other computer-related conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. But while less than one in four regular computer users suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, three times as many experience CVS."

Tired, burning, painful or itchy eyes, headaches, double vision and sensitivity to light are a few symptoms of CVS, however, it is preventable.

"While there is no scientific evidence that computer use causes any disease-related concerns, the extended use can create eyestrain, dry eyes and poor vision," explains Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, practicing optometrist and author of "Visual Ergonomics in the Workplace" (CRC, $30.95). "This is especially true for contact lens wearers who experience dry eyes while at work - and often not at other times. And since our 'eyes lead the body,' physical problems could be caused by poor vision."

The BlackBerry phenomenon is so ubiquitous, some health spas have created a healing response to the strain technology puts on the body. The Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio, Texas, for example, offers a "Blackberry Balm hand massage," which includes natural blackberry powder, camphor oil to reduce inflammation and muscle tension, and cinnamon, clove and peppermint to improve circulation. The spa even offers a 10-minute version for quick relief between business meetings.

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