Sometimes low-tech roads get there before high ones


March 05, 1995|By Susan Hipsley | Susan Hipsley,Special to The Sun

Before most of us knew better, way back in the '80s, we actually believed the sweet nothings technophiles were promising so passionately: "Computers will eliminate paper and the drudgery of filing!" "Computers will organize the world and save untold amounts of time!" "Technology will make all things possible!"

So we bought the promises -- and became the wiser for it. We found out that computers and those nifty data bases they bring into our lives require time to use and manage. We also learned they can eat up time -- in chatting online and playing computer games -- that might be better spent on something else.

"Technology allows us to do things we shouldn't be doing at all," says Barbara Hemphill, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers and author of "Taming the Paper Tiger" (Kiplinger Books). She is currently working on a book, also to be published by Kiplinger, about how technology is affecting organization.

What's more, she says, technology is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to efficiency and organization. "Like most things today, it's a balance issue," she says. "The real challenge now is deciding when it's appropriate to use technology, how to organize the technology you have and when you don't need it."

Ms. Hemphill tells the story of a woman writer she knows. She'd been computer-resistant for years but finally succumbed to the allure of word processing, and was delighted with it -- except for one thing.

For years she had collected business cards and had thrown them all into a file. She could reach into that file and within seconds find the card she wanted. When she got her computer, she felt she should put all the information from those cards into a computer file. But then she did a brave thing for a neophyte: She decided not to use the computerized card system, recalls Ms. Hemphill.

"She said, 'When I think about having to sit down and spend all that time entering information into a computer that I already can easily find in my file with no additional effort, I think, 'why?' "

That is the pertinent question about technology for the professional organizer. "It's one of the questions I have my clients consider," Ms. Hemphill says. " 'What could I do with technology that I'm not doing now?' If the answer is 'nothing,' then why do it? There are a lot of things you can do with technology that are not necessarily improved by using it."

Ms. Hemphill says her heretical point of view came from more than 15 years of working with people to organize their homes and offices. "I'm just a practical person," she says, and her horse sense tells her if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

She asks her clients a simple two-part question to determine if they need to keep or discard an established way they do things: "Does it work, and do you like it?"

She advises clients to remember that technology is a tool. She says to decide what you want to do, then go shopping for technology that fits the need. "Don't get the technology and then try to figure out how to apply it. We have to be careful that technology doesn't become the tail wagging the dog."


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