Going Tech Cold Turkey

This winter break was not wisely spent. Sure, we enjoyed an amazing ski day at Copper Mountain, a few decent movies and a number of superb meals with friends, but we also lost significant time to technology. To whit:

  • My daughter’s extended time on the iPad over winter break resulted in zero recreational reading.
  • My addiction to Farm Heroes meant no blog writing and less exercising.
  • My wife’s decision to rewatch almost the entire series of Six Feet under on HBOGo lasted for days.

When, with the restart of school, our daughter’s teachers told us she was having trouble focusing on simple assignments, it was clear to us that something needed to change. So, in the spirit of a New Year’s cleanse (minus the grapefruit), we have agreed to go (mostly) cold turkey with our tech.

Away went the iPad. Gone were the video breaks on school nights. Bye-bye to post-dinner, prime-time email binges. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not one of those families that sits around watching separate screens during suppertime, but our mutual addiction to Netflix and HBOGo had us well along the path in that very direction.

When I was a child, my parents strictly forbid television on week nights, but now, there are so many alternative forms of distraction, that a simple ban on the boob tube won’t cut it. So we’ve put in place some sensible limits to usage, especially in the evening before bed. The results so far: a far less irritable child, much improved dinner conversations, and more time spent reading.

Our tech hiatus coincided with my reading The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, by EdD. Steiner-Adair Catherine and Teresa H. Barker, as part of the “One School / One Book” program at the Ricks Center. Based on a combination of current psychological research and the clinical experience of Steiner-Adair, The Big Disconnect is hard-hitting, pointing the finger at everyone – parents and children – for the emerging crisis of disconnected family life.

I highly recommend it, and after poring over the rather startling stories of tech gone wrong, you too may find yourself contemplating a break. It’s certainly reinforced our desire to regulate our need to text and type and to stay present with each other while together as a family. I’ll report back after a few months to let you know how this experiment worked out.

Anosognosia. Is that what I have?

A few weeks ago, when talking with my doctor friend Dave, I brought up my suspicion that I had recently developed an odd habit of which I was previously unaware.

Let me explain. One of my employees had recently presented me with an advertising idea. While it had its merits, my first response was to pepper him with pointed questions about its practicality. I challenged his suggestion rather than discussing it, and in retrospect, I didn’t like how I’d handled the conversation.

So that got me to wondering: had I begun to skew negative about new ideas? I love to run experiments and test ideas (my heartbeat still races while planning a novel marketing campaign), but was I actually becoming a more conservative and cynical marketer? If yes, then was I blind in my perception of self?

That scared me. Who doesn’t want to be confident of who they think they are? Dave, who has a rather encyclopedic mind, gave it some thought and introduced me to Anosognosia, a “deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person who suffers certain disability seems unaware of the existence of his or her disability.” I was fascinated.

Anosognosia, Dave explained, is related to brain injury, schizophrenia and neurological diseases like Alzheimers. It’s one of the primary reasons why individuals with bipolar disorder don’t take their medicine: they are unaware of their own illness. “I’m not sick, so I don’t need medicine,” thinks the individual, but only by taking the medicine can he battle the Anosognosia and foster the self-awareness that he is sick and needs the medicine. A rather nasty Catch-22.

So, yeah, I am not a candidate for that particular diagnosis, but I do find it amazing that such a difficult-to-pronounce disease exists. And I still believe that we humans have a wonderfully distasteful habit of ignoring about ourselves that which we do not like.

Considering my own original situation, I’ve decided in the future to work on holding my opinions firmly in check until after the presenter has given me the full pitch. Only then, if she hasn’t been able to sell me and show me she’s thought it through, will I start to ask the pertinent questions. But I’ll do it with more consideration and try to accentuate the positives.



To Unsubscribe, or Not to Unsubscribe

Hardly the question. Daily I find myself unsubscribing from a newsletter or mailing list that I never registered for. The reason is that I am actually five people.

No, no, no. Don’t misunderstand. My friends, co-workers and family have never witnessed more than one quirky, rather mild personality answering to “Larry.” More to the point, I receive redirected email from the accounts of four former marketing employees.

As the head of the marketing team at a small company, I have to sort through these various email requests and inquiries to make sure we don’t miss anything critical. Not the best use of my early morning, but I do mine the occasional gem – an invitation to speak, an insightful blog column, an advertising option we didn’t know existed – that was shipped to the wrong person. Mistakes happen.

The time suck for me is all the rest of the dreck that arrives. Here are a few of my less-than-favorite themes:

  • Companies that want to sell us “targeted” lists of contacts, but send them to the email accounts of individuals who are clearly no longer at our company (catch the irony there?).
  • Advertising emails sent out in bulk, so that I get five of the exact same messages! None of these hold interest, but I am forced to unsubscribe five times to make sure we’re out of their database.
  • Vendors that offer third-party papers and other marketing tips, and to unsubscribe, require that I know the former employee’s password so that I can log onto the vendor website to manually de-select the multiple options that will send me multiple emails on multiple topics.
  • Solicitations from individuals who either list no unsubscribe link at the end of the email or request me to send them a personal email with REMOVE in the subject line. How very 1997.

All said and done, I do feel like I am making incremental progress in cutting down the flow. I fully appreciate everyone who uses ConstantContact (we don’t), with it’s “SafeUnsubscribe” option. It’s a moment of transcendent joy when I spot that tiny blue link at the bottom of the email, click once, and never hear from them again.

As for the rest, those list brokers who hawk these derelict email addresses to inattentive advertisers, those fiends I would relegate to the 8th Circle of Hell as described in Dante’s Inferno. That’s the one reserved for fraud: panderers, seducers, flatterers, sorcerers, false prophets, liars and thieves. May 2015 see an end to these “False Prophets of Email!”

Unless that’s a trendy new band. With a moniker like that, I might just go see them.