Taming Technology

With help from Ken Karpay, president of Public Strategies, Inc., a media consulting firm based in the Baltimore/Washington area, Aquent offers the following guidelines for navigating the technology trenches.

  1. First things first. Find a technology advisor to turn to for advice on new products, upgrades, and choosing between different brands. It can be a tech-savvy friend, or, if you are plum out of those types of friends (or they're sick of dispensing their wisdom for free) find a reliable printed source. Walt Mossberg's Thursday "Personal Technology" column in The Wall Street Journal is a great resource (it's available online at www.wsj.com for free). A subscription to Home Office Computing or PC Computing may also do the trick.

  2. Ask yourself if you need it. Don't waste your time trying to think of potential uses for a super-cute, aubergine, handheld scanner. Sit down and think about your present needs. Identify things that you're doing that you think could benefit from technology. Are you constantly updating your address book with the 411 of every new prospect you meet? Are the folks at the coffee shop sick of taking your phone messages? If so, a Palm Pilot or a cell phone may be in order.

  3. Karpay has developed a helpful checklist, which he calls his "Make the Mistake" rules. "Do I think the tool could save me time? Do I think the tool could help me better serve a client? Do I think the tool could help me create a new revenue opportunity for my business? If you can answer yes to at least two of these questions, make the mistake and buy it. If it's really a mistake, you have 30 days to return it."

  4. Don't stretch the device beyond its powers. For example, says Karpay, you can add numerous software and hardware devices to a Palm Pilot. But "many of those add-ons slow the Palm down and make it less effective. Keep the devices focused on what they do best. If you want a pager, buy a pager; if you want a portable web browser, try a portable modem on a laptop."

  5. Can you figure out how to use it? If you have to spend 15 hours reading the manual, it's not a good fit. The design and interface should be intuitive. If you don't get it, it's not your fault, it's the product designer's fault.

  6. Does it work? If it keeps crashing, losing memory, or burning out its batteries then no matter how great its features, the gadget isn't working for you. Return it.

  7. Use it sensibly. Make back-ups of crucial information. Upload new information you've entered in your laptop or palm pilot. Set guidelines for checking and answering email.

  8. Be on the avant-garde of the tech set. Go underground. Turn everything off for three or four days (install an automatic email response so people know why they're not hearing back from you). Evaluate your business, your schedule, your time-management practices. Get some sleep. Watch Return of the Mutant Kung Fu Master, Part VII.