Why I Said Goodbye to My BlackBerry

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I have been a BlackBerry fanatic since 2007. I love the keyboard and enjoy messaging my friends via BBM. The sleek black interface, the red dot notifier, and the short, classy sounds make my smartphone experience smart!

Being on the go all the time, I relied on BlackBerry’s sync feature where I can make changes to my calendar, contacts, and tasks while mobile and was confident that all changes will be reflected on my laptop after the sync. And vice-versa. I could be working on my laptop and changes would be ported to the smartphone via sync.

I felt like my life was in sync!

Having had a fab experience with the Curve, I got drawn to the Bold 9000 because of its bigger keyboard, which was welcome news to my thumbs (the Curve’s keyboard was a bit cramped). It also had a bigger screen, which was welcome news to my eyes. This was the model I stayed the longest time with, and if not for the fact that I can no longer download apps because of a very limited memory, I wouldn’t have upgraded to the Bold Touch 9900.

There will never be a time when you are perfectly happy and comfortable with your smartphone because when that time comes, a better model of the same brand or competitor’s would come along. This better model would rob you of your perfectly happy and comfortable feeling. For the Bold Touch 9900, it was the better, nicer keyboard; the touchscreen; the bigger memory; and the overall sleeker, slimmer, more elegant body that did it for me. Being last in the Bold line in the old OS, BlackBerry certainly knew how to create the best. Kudos!

For a few months I was in smartphone utopia. My 9900 was the best. It did everything you ever hoped a smartphone could and it synced perfectly with my Sony laptop. My personal productivity was at an all time high. I was happy and comfortable. Life was good.

Until I replaced my laptop with a MacBook Air.

My smartphone didn’t sync with my laptop. Gradually, slowly, painfully, like waking up to a nightmare, I saw my smartphone utopia being shred to a million little pieces. I was desperate not to fall into a depression. How can this happen?

A big part of the problem is my assumption that these devices would sync and “communicate” with each other. Had I spent a little time reading the chat forums I would have learned of the connectivity issue between the 9900 and the MBA. These big companies don’t play nice with one another, much to the customer’s detriment.

Because I was stuck with these top-of-the-line devices I had to cope; I really didn’t have any other choice. Even though I had my smartphone and laptop with me most of the time, it was easier to update items on the 9900. I can easily add a new meeting schedule, a new phone number, or a task I suddenly remembered had to be done. Without the connectivity all these updates resided on the phone but not on the laptop. But there were times when I would be working on the laptop and had to update information there, usually from websites or emails. Likewise, the updated information stayed on the laptop only.

My life was no longer in sync. I was working from two devices and sometimes I was looking for information on one when I saved it on the other. It felt like walking two parallel streets at once. Frustration was an understatement. My smartphone utopia has come undone!

Shakespeare once said “Parting is such sweet sorrow…” I had to make a choice. I needed sync and utopia to be part of my life again.

Goodbye, BlackBerry Bold 9900.

Hello, iPhone 5.

Now I don’t even have to sync, iCloud does everything for me. Once I set up my calendar, address book, tasks, reminders, mail, etc. to iCloud, all I need to do is sign in using the same account on my MBA and iPhone, then voila, the sync happens over-the-air. When I add a new calendar entry to my phone while at work (with my laptop at home), I don’t have to worry about syncing devices because when I turn on my laptop, the calendar entry is already there. I love Steve Jobs!

I know some friends who have been really good BBM buddies will miss me there but hey, there’s WhatsApp, Skype, YM and Viber. Friends who are already on iOS will welcome me on FaceTime or iMessage. There is no dearth of messaging channels on the Internet.

I miss the BlackBerry keyboard and am still learning to type on screen. The letters are smaller and I make a lot of typos. I don’t know if I can make the letters bigger for my eyes. I miss BBM too, but life has to go on with or without BBM.

Now I understand why these big tech companies are not friendly with one another. It’s all about the money. In my experience, Apple won because I was forced to ditch my BB for the iPhone. Had my 9900 synced with my MBA, no issues. I even bought Office for Mac 2011, hoping that the sync can happen via Outlook. Negative.

My dream is to see the day when everything is interconnected. Apple syncs with Microsoft, BlackBerry and what-have-you, and all documents are saved in one platform but accessible through all channels. A day when I can save an Excel spreadsheet on Google Drive in Toronto; send a copy of the same spreadsheet to a friend’s BBM in Manila using iMessage; have two other friends (one in Dubai and another in Paris) work on the same spreadsheet using their Android and Windows 8 devices; and have all changes happen on Google Drive in real time. A day when consumers don’t have to get frustrated that a Windows app doesn’t work on the iPhone or the Mac; or an Android feature is not supported on iCloud. A day when syncing is no longer an issue but a given.

Now that would not be smartphone utopia; that would be technological bliss!

(P.S. I checked the BlackBerry 10 devices before going for the iPhone 5. Likewise, sync issues.)

A Prayer For Death

Have you ever prayed to God to take back the gift of life from someone you love and care for?

A week ago I received a text message from a nun friend asking me to pray for God’s intervention in her chronic father’s situation, so he doesn’t suffer for long. In other words, a prayer for God to take her father back into His loving arms so he can rest in peace. A prayer for death. I felt very sad after reading her message and quietly said a prayer for her dad.

This brought me back six years ago when my mom was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. My family decided that she was too old for chemotherapy and it would likely shorten her life instead of prolonging it. Not to mention the cost and discomfort the therapy entails. So we opted for alternative, herbal treatment which really didn’t do much for her. It was a waste of money.

Three years after diagnosis, my mom’s situation deteriorated to a point where she could no longer stand up and care for herself. What made matters worse was her refusal to hire help to assist her in day-to-day activities. Only when she was completely bedridden did we finally succeed in bringing in a relative to help in her care.

I was working abroad when this story unfolded so I can only imagine how my mom’s quality of life worsened. She was a proud woman but her condition was really humbling. There was no dignity in her situation; there is no dignity in being sick and helpless.

My prayer to God was a prayer for death. I prayed for Him to end my mom’s suffering. She has lived a difficult life for the most part and to see her suffer in her last days was almost too cruel. Without the dignity of living, what’s the point in life? For me it was more comforting to know she was with God instead of wallowing in her disease. Perhaps it was my way of ridding myself of the guilt of not being there for her during the moments she needed me the most. Perhaps it was my way of having closure.

Some of my very close friends and relatives were shocked when I shared my prayer with them. They just couldn’t understand how I would rather have my mom rest in peace than live in a miserable state of disease.

When I finally learned that my mom passed on, I said a word of thanks for an answered prayer. I was sad at my loss but relieved that her suffering has ended.

I am not sorry for my conviction, regardless of the disapproval of my relatives and friends. It was the humane thing to desire – end suffering sooner rather than later. She wasn’t going to get better anyway, why prolong her agony?

To get a text message from a friend asking for the same thing is, in a way, validating. This is especially relevant because my friend is a nun.

My mom is at peace now, resting in God’s presence. I miss you mom. And I am sorry for all my shortcomings.

Today, September 1, 2012, I received another text message from my nun friend advising me that her dad passed on. Another answered prayer.

I hope you don’t ever have to pray the death prayer. But if you do, may it bring forth the peace you wish for your loved one and closure for you.

Professionalizing Recruitment

The recruitment process is never straightforward. With ever-increasing costs associated with finding the right person for the right job, not to mention the cost of a bad hire, companies are hard-pressed to get recruitment right the first time, and cutting costs in the process.

It is estimated that recruitment mistakes can cost one to five times the annual salary of the jobholder. Several factors affect the final cost: position, salary, length of time served, training received, recruitment and replacement costs, etc. So if we are talking of a manager making an annual salary of P500k including benefits, we are looking at a maximum cost of a bad hire at P2.5m.

Why, then, is recruitment assigned to over-worked, untrained assistants? Why are hiring decisions based on nepotism, political or personal favors, or gut-feel likability of candidate? Why are recruitment tools like occupational assessments shrugged off as pricey? And when the recruitment mistake unravels, management shakes its head, wondering why it cannot hire good people nor keep them long enough on the job.

What can a company do to strengthen its recruitment process and attract the best candidates?

 1. Professionalize the Process

Even sans an HR department, setting a professional recruitment process has great rewards. It helps to identify key positions that need to be staffed at all times. The management team knows which positions need to be filled and which ones can be delayed in case business performance warrants same. It also helps to have standardized job descriptions. So when an employee resigns or is promoted, management knows what steps to take to fill the vacancy, and can act immediately. Recruitment takes time, so it is in the best interest of the company to act efficiently and effectively in this process.

A professional recruitment process creates an ideal touch point with candidates you want to recruit. Since this is most likely the first time they have an interaction with your company, it bodes well to show your best.

2. Train Hiring Staff

Equip employees involved in the hiring process with proper skills like competency-based interviewing techniques. This assures that time spent in the interview is not wasted. Evidence in support of or against recruitment is obtained and the interview is not downgraded to a chitchat. Without proper techniques, countless hours are spent interviewing when the interviewer has no clue what he is looking for.

 3. Employ Occupational Assessments

Ability and aptitude tests and personality questionnaires provide information about the candidate that would normally not be apparent even in an interview. In creating a recruitment plan, it is best to select the most appropriate assessments that would measure the competencies required by the job. For example, a candidate for sales manager should be assessed for sales skills. If the job has a leadership component, then leadership skills should also be assessed.

Once I was recruiting a sales manager. His personality questionnaire report showed a reluctance to do sales presentations, which is a key competency of the role. During interview I probed him on this and he replied, rather confidently, that he was comfortable giving sales presentations. So I asked him to come back the next day and do a presentation. He failed miserably.

Without the personality questionnaire report, I would have been convinced by his confidence about his presentation skill. After all, he is a sales professional and this is a standard requirement of the job. Because the report flagged this deficiency, I was able to probe and verify.

Although recruitment decisions should not be made solely on results of occupational assessments, the information gleaned from these instruments can be vital in verifying information and probing for evidence. Personality questionnaires provide a person’s preferred behavior at work. Used appropriately, a hiring manager can determine fit with the company and save all the hassle and costs when a suitably qualified hire fails to gel with the work team and leaves.

4. Create a Happy Work Place

It doesn’t matter how much you spend to professionalize your hiring process if your work environment is crappy. You may be able to attract the best but you will not retain them, and when they leave you are back at square one.

Creating a work environment where employees can be their best and providing them with opportunities for development are the key determinants of whether your stars will stay or not. If you want to safeguard your investment, you have to ensure that you have a happy work place.

The battle for today’s talent is fiercer than ever and a loyal employee is a vanishing breed. Everyone wants to hire the creme de la creme of the labor market. Employees will jump ship at a higher offer or a better work environment. Invest in your recruitment process, attract and select the stars, and ensure your work environment, employee benefits, and processes will retain them for good.

Then, take your profits to the bank.

46 & The Midlife Crisis

It usually starts in the dark. Your mind beams a spotlight inside your head and, like a slide projector, your life flashes back in front of you, frame-by-frame, angle-by-angle, slide-by-slide. What’s amiss about this slideshow is it only shows negative experiences; memories you’d rather remain buried in the deep recesses of your mind. Then the feelings would come flooding in: remorse, guilt, shame, inadequacy, self-doubt, etc.

You try desperately to distract the slideshow by thinking positive thoughts or by refocusing your attention. Although it works in most cases, your relief is only as good as the next encore. You will be alone again and the dark is sure to come. And the projector never runs out of battery!

In an attempt to explain my persistent feelings of melancholy, depression and directionlessness, I turned to the omniscient Google, and true enough, there is a term for it — midlife crisis. The fact that psychologists do not agree that such a crisis exists does not mean it doesn’t. And I am determined to investigate if, in fact, I am suffering from it.

Wikipedia states that “midlife crisis is a term coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques and used in Western societies to describe a period of dramatic self-doubt that is felt by some individuals in the ‘middle years’ or middle age of life, as a result of sensing the passing of their own youth and the imminence of their old age.”

I know I am not alone. There are people reading this blog post right now who are going through the same feelings. For some it is just a phase to be outgrown. For others professional help or support from family and friends might be required. One lady I know says she is bored and believes she might be suffering from Night Eating Syndrome, a disorder characterized by binge-eating at night. Another lady suffers from Empty Nest Syndrome, feelings of depression associated with the departure of grown children.

I began to notice these feelings in me in 2003 in Canada, where I’ve lived for five years. I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), feelings of melancholy and depression associated with the lack of sunshine, usually during the autumn to winter months. As soon as spring came and the sun reappeared, the feelings dissipated.

When I left Canada for the Middle East, the feelings persisted and I knew it wasn’t SAD — it simply couldn’t exist in a place where the sun shines 13 months of the year! If you get depressed in the Middle East, something else is definitely causing it, not SAD.

Being a naturally jovial person I always managed to drown my melancholy with my laughter. I am the livewire in any group. I have a gift of making people laugh. Flatulence is a normal by-product of our get-togethers. We don’t do coy smiles or inaudible giggles; we do loud, boisterous, belly laughter that aches at the same time it relaxes. The kind that you want to stop but can’t get enough of. In making other people happy, I make myself happy, too. So the melancholy never has a chance to linger; the laughter always drives it away. But its persistent recurrence is a problem. This means something unresolved in my life is causing it to keep coming back.

Could it be that I have unresolved conflict or feelings of unforgiveness in my heart?

I remember a couple of friends who had bouts of serious depression. The psychiatrists they saw had a common prescription: Identify if you need to forgive or ask for forgiveness from the significant people in your life.

The key word here is significant. I listed four people: one relative and three friends. I wrote them emails. I listed my grievances, real or perceived, and asked for pardon. I also forgave them for any shortcomings, real or perceived. My relative was the first to respond. He had a long list against me — some were right, others weren’t. We had a few emails exchanged until everything was clarified and resolved. Apologies were made and received. We approached the exercise with a positive, sincere desire to reconcile. The experience was cathartic. No wonder psychiatrists charge an arm and a leg!

Of my three friends, one replied. She is now in the USA and was very mature about the whole thing. She said she never harboured any ill will towards me. She wished me well and is happy to be reconciled.

I never got a reply from the other two friends. I must have hurt them badly. I am truly sorry. But for me, the act of sending them the apology email was my closure. I have forgiven them. The ball is now in their court. They can choose to forgive me and move on, like I did, or they can choose unforgiveness and live with its consequences.

Do I have worthwhile goals to pursue — the type that makes me excited to wake up every morning?

Not really.

My last major life goal was to become a Canadian citizen, achieved in December 2005. My former boss already had a talk with me about this. When I ticked off “Become a Canadian citizen” from my bucket list, she asked me what new goals I wished to pursue. She admonished me to add new goals. Thomas Carlysle said “A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.”

Six years after I became a Canadian citizen and five years since I left Canada for good, I haven’t been able to articulate what I want to do next in my life. I drifted. I went back to Bahrain, the place where I had the most success in my life, fervently hoping for an encore that didn’t materialize. When health issues forced me to go back to the Philippines, prematurely, I stared at an image of me that was indecisive, insecure and tentative — the complete opposite of the real me. I was looking at a stranger in the mirror and it was painful to realize that the stranger was me.

The prospect of failing health, aging and hopelessness is at the core of the midlife crisis. It is a time when you reevaluate your life and see how much you’ve achieved. Regrets for failed relationships, wrong career choices and missed opportunities become recurring themes in your life’s slideshow. The challenge is to replace these negative thoughts with positive ones. Celebrate successful relationships, good career moves and bountiful opportunities. Life is a beautiful blend of good and bad. Choose to reminisce the good.

I resolve to change my thoughts. My first new mantra is: I will not give or take offense. Stephen Covey said “Between stimulus and response, we have a choice.” I empower myself to use this choice to be positive, peaceful and kind.

I will work toward achieving new and worthwhile goals. I will pursue my passions with a fiery enthusiasm. I will direct my resources to altruistic endeavours. I will validate the significant people in my life, including myself. I will not rest until I have vanquished the stranger in the mirror and see the real me again.

I want my life to matter. I want to make a difference in this world. I want to find my purpose. At 46, I am young and I am only just beginning. So this is a shout-out to the world: Watch out, here I come!”

Random Act of Kindness

Last night I was blessed by the random act of kindness of a total stranger.

I attended Fountainseeds Toastmasters club meeting at the Pioneer Centre in Mandaluyong. The meeting finished a little past 8:00 p.m. and after saying goodbye to the group I left to go home. It had been drizzling all afternoon with sudden bursts of strong rain alternating with soft showers, but rarely did the rain stop completely.

Chowking was the culprit – I couldn’t resist their spicy chao fan! The short stop at the restaurant made me miss my opportunity to commute and the rain started pouring like crazy again. You know how cabbies are when it rains – they morph into snobbish, choosy and greedy versions of themselves. My chances of getting a ride home were now slim at best.

I transferred to Jollibee next door and started reading a book, praying for a break in the rain. Then suddenly a cab stops in front of the main door. As I rushed to grab it, the lady passenger said that she’s not done with it and was only stopping for take-away. She asked where I was headed and reminded me that Chowking closes later, just in case I had to wait longer. And so the lady left in the cab. It was 9:30 p.m.

Twenty minutes later the restaurant’s guard asked me if I called for a cab. I said no. He said a cab was waiting for me outside. Then it dawned on me that the lady was kind enough to tell the cabbie that I was looking for transport.

As I sat in the cab on my way home, in the middle of heavy, pouring rain, I thanked God for His blessing, and realized that in spite of the rudeness we encounter everyday, there is kindness in this world. Like a flickering candle in a dark, stormy night, its light reminds us that there is hope for mankind.

I wish I could thank that kind stranger but I know I couldn’t. Instead, I will pay her kindness forward to the next person in need.

Adding Value in Social Media

Whether you are a technophobe or technophile, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, and whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay.

In my blog post entitled “The Curse of Technology” I wrote that the same technology created to make life easier has enslaved us. It made life more urgent, thus creating more stress. We are under constant pressure to keep abreast of what’s going on. Consequently, we have a nagging feeling of guilt when we are unable to check the latest status on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ (and these are just four of the social networks; the comprehensive list is scary!). Worse, we feel incomplete or inadequate sans social media.

One can argue that any great innovation has the potential for good or evil. Nuclear power is clean, cheap and efficient but the technology that creates it can also be used to manufacture nuclear weapons, with catastrophic consequences if deployed. Likewise, social media can be ambivalent, depending on what purpose it serves. Facebook reunites high school classmates who have been out of touch for decades. It provides a venue to socialize virtually with family, friends and people of common interests and passions. “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life”, its tagline reads. However, recent events have shown that while social networks can unite citizens to topple dictatorships, they can also mobilize people to vandalize society, as seen in the London riots.

More than any other period in history, these technological advances have given us platforms to speak our minds and reach vast audiences in no time. One tweet can reach thousands in minutes. Justin Bieber’s tweet can reach 12 million people in seconds. Imagine that!

How can we leverage social networks for the greater good? How can we positively influence our audience? How can we add value to the people we interact with?

These five suggestions may help:

1. Be positive. I always remember Rotary Club’s four-way test: (1) Is it the truth? (2) Is it fair to all concerned? (3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships? and (4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned? If we use this test whenever we communicate in the social networks we will create a positive and valuable experience for our Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections and Google+ circles. They will look forward to our updates, and because having a positive outlook in life is contagious, the good we start will create a ripple effect in our friends’ circles, their friends’ circles, etc.

2. Share what you learn. Social media is a treasure trove of brilliant ideas. Subject experts share articles, blog posts, websites and trends. Great thinkers and trailblazers publish pioneering information to the world. In some instances we learn about breaking news even before the news channels pick it up. We can also benefit from collective effort. If everyone shares what they learn, we can have mini Wikipedias in our news feeds. Knowledge is now literally at our finger tips. By networking with people in our profession, we will always be at the forefront of latest developments. Make learning a lifelong activity and be generous in sharing what you’ve learned. In so doing you safeguard knowledge for posterity.

3. Be a resource or guide. If you are a specialist or a subject expert, serve as a resource to your networks. Or direct them to the right resource if you’re not. Virtual networks operate in much the same way as offline networks — everyone facilitates the solution to a problem. If you know of a suitable job vacancy and one of your friends is job hunting, facilitate the meeting between the recruiter and your friend. When the time comes that you need something, someone in your network will assist you. The most connected people yield the greatest power and influence. If you conscientiously work to help people, you will increase your clout. This positive dynamic yields its own rewards. Remember Stephen Covey’s teaching on “abundance mentality” — there is plenty for everybody.

4. Be authentic. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you’re saying.” Today one only needs to read your Facebook wall or Twitter feed to have an idea of who you are. Your posts, updates, tweets, etc. embody your online brand. They reflect your faith, beliefs and values; even your goals and aspirations. As an example, if you read my wall posts you will most certainly come across the topic of Toastmasters, because I am a die-hard Toastmaster.

It is critical that you be yourself. No one likes a duplicitous person. Fakes ultimately become exposed because it is so hard to pretend to be someone you are not. They say Rome was built in centuries, but it was burned in one day! Similarly, it takes time, effort, and energy to build an online reputation, but it can easily be ruined by a lie or an inappropriate post.

I once came across a beautifully written self description of a person’s Facebook profile. It was the kind that immediately caught your attention and touched your heart. I requested to be his friend simply because I was moved by his profile. Soon enough I was seeing posts on his wall that made me squirm. At first I gave him the benefit of the doubt; we all have bad days. However, his posts became consistent to a point that I unfriended him. His wall posts contradicted his profile description. He wasn’t authentic.

5. Respect others. Anything you publish in the web can come back to haunt you. This is more reason to be respectful. When we are guided by respect, our posts and updates are considerate and people appreciate us more. Respect begets respect. Like authenticity, respectfulness is a great quality to imbibe. We interact with a diverse group of people and it is sometimes challenging to find common ground. Respect bridges our differences and makes allowances for moments when we disagree.

Unless you live in the boondocks without internet connectivity, there is no escaping social media. Look around you, everyone is tapping away at gadgets, updating statuses and profiles. To thrive in social media, we must add value to the people we influence — this value is the price we pay for success. By using the guidelines above we will not only add value, but also enhance our online brand, strengthen our networks, and contribute to a smarter, plugged world.

The Curse of Technology

When I got my first BlackBerry in 2009 I was mesmerized by the blinking red light notifying me of incoming calls and messages. Little did I know that this light was going to be the bane of my existence. My smartphone has all my perennially-online social media, calendar, contacts, emails, apps, utilities and soon, it will allow me to pay for purchases just like a credit card. It is my entire life in a smartphone. Pretty scary, huh?

The LED notifier and ringtone would soon turn into a compulsion. I have to check the phone whenever I see the light (or hear the ringtone). I have to know what’s happening. I became dysfunctionally enslaved by the need to know. When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is check my smartphone. I work, eat, and sleep with the smartphone next to me. The only time I couldn’t have it beside me is in the shower but guess what, as soon as I step out of the bathroom, my eyes would lock on the phone to see if the red light is blinking.

It could be an important phone call or message — maybe my boss is trying to reach me; or a client signed the proposal; or an important Facebook post; or one of my Twitter followers sent me a direct message. It could be a host of other things: a calendar reminder, a BBM or text message, or voicemail.

A recent survey revealed that 33% of Americans would feel completely lost without their smartphones. In a separate survey respondents were asked to choose which they would forgo for a week — living without a smartphone or sex — and a majority would rather give up sex. This obsession with smartphones (and technology) has clearly gone overboard. I am not alone.

I have a technophobe friend who only uses his smartphone for calls and text messages. He is not into social media and doesn’t use mobile email. Despite his limited use of his smartphone, he went into a type of withdrawal syndrome when he lost it. He became disconcerted and was fidgeting and edgy during the short period he was without a phone. Losing his phone made him realize how attached he was to it. I accompanied him to buy a new one and a same-number replacement SIM card from the telecom company. I will never forget the look on his face when he got the new phone working — it was like having your first cigarette after a full day of fasting during Ramadan! And this reaction was from a technophobe. A technophile would probably be salivating.

Another friend is obsessed with her iPhone. Because she likes to sleep in pitch black darkness, the blinking LED light becomes much more enticing as it glows in the dark. She checks her phone compulsively and refuses to turn it off for fear she might miss an important call or message.

I once attended a seminar where the speaker eloquently described how the very same technology created to make our lives easier has enslaved us. No wonder we are always stressed. We receive a never-ending stream of emails, voicemails, SMS text messages, BBMs, etc. that requires us to do something. He proposed the Getting Things Done (GTD) principle of assigning a certain time during the day to check email messages. This principle makes sense. In order to do some work, you need to distance yourself from the source of stress (i.e. urgent messages) and assign a certain period in the day to read incoming messages.

This doesn’t work for me, though. I will go crazy waiting for that assigned time to check my email. Every time I return to my seat in the office and click my computer, the first thing I do is check incoming email and voicemail messages. I don’t think I will have it any other way.

My friends and I meet once a week to bond. During these meetings we update each other on our activities, talk about current events, even gossip a little, and discuss, among other things, technology. There are special meetings when we don’t talk much. Instead, we hunch over our smartphones and gadgets, either playing, testing some new feature, or working with apps. Very little is said during these special meetings but we adjourn feeling revived, having learned something new in technology.

As I looked around the coffee shop we frequent, I realized that we were not the only ones who have these tech sessions. People in groups were silently tapping away at a host of gadgets like smartphones, tablets, laptops and netbooks. Is this the new way to socialize?

With the ubiquity of social media and the need to get caught up with trends that change at blazing speeds, I can now understand why we are stressed. Employers expect us to be reachable most of the time. Even when we are on holiday we bring mobile connectivity and check in with assistants every day to find out what’s happening in the office. Aren’t vacations supposed to be a time spent with family away from work? I remember an executive assistant whose boss called her every day while he was vacationing in some exotic island. She could hear the wind blowing against the trees as she briefed him.

With a constant need to update social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc., we have become like zombies in a trance, inseparably glued to our computers and mobile devices.

One of the upsides of technology is I’ve become smarter through social media. I am the first to know breaking news even before the networks pick them up. I follow people in my profession and get to know latest developments and trends. I satisfy my need to be relevant by sharing valuable information with my friends and followers. However, the more I know, the more I realize how little I know, and the more pressure there is to know more. Vicious cycle!

You know who I envy right now? I envy people who couldn’t care less about technology. They built their lives outside the technology-social media vortex, so they have, in fact, insulated themselves from all the stress. For those of us who are sucked into the vortex, our only hope is to find balance amid the stress.

I think what we have now is only the tip of the iceberg. New social platforms will emerge. Thousands of apps are invented and sold every day. Technology is creating more urgency in our lives. So the question we need to ask ourselves is this: do we manage technology or does technology manage us?

Since we cannot control the companies who entice us with new products and services to make a profit, we can control our response. As Stephen Covey said: “Between stimulus and response, one has the freedom to choose.”

The next time the red LED light blinks on my BlackBerry, I will consciously tell myself that I don’t have to check it at that very moment, especially while I’m driving, and that it can wait until I reach my destination. Mind over matter. I have the freedom to choose. I am in control of my response. I can distract myself in the car to get my focus away from the phone. I just hope that I don’t come across a red traffic light, because if I do, in those few seconds before the light turns green, I know I will wrestle a losing match against my mind and reach for the phone to check that bloody blinking red light.

So help me God.