Opinion: Email gadgets ensure there's no hiding place

Geraldine Peacock, charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner, but writes in a personal capacity

Either I'm getting older far quicker than I thought, or technology is progressing by even greater leaps and bounds than I anticipated. Probably both are true, and I need to be less of a Luddite.

I don't know about you, but my life is becoming dominated to the point of obsession by technology. First, it was the phone, then it was the fax and then email. Each speeded up transactions and supposedly made our lives easier, and we took to them with alacrity.

However, at the same time as we embraced speedy communication, it began to put new pressures on our lives. You felt you had to respond at least within the same day when a fax came through. With an email the expectation is a couple of hours. Now I have a new toy, a Blackberry hand-held, which delivers instant emails wherever you are at whatever time - there is no hiding place!

In one way this is magnificent. You can organise yourself as you go, and not come back to 100 messages. You can, as I have done this weekend, instant-email a conference speaker in the Mexican jungle with notes for the next day's seminar so that he can read them on the flight over. Marvellous stuff.

But (and it's a big but) you have to make sure you control it - not the other way round. The downside of all this instant access is that it makes the home/work balance even more difficult to manage and allows levels of workaholism to climb.

For the voluntary sector, however, the rapid growth of new technology has huge potential because it allows contact and dissemination without having to travel at great expense. It fosters informal dialogue via chat rooms so staff can find mutual support, and it allows global portals for virtual conferencing and sensible sharing of information databases. It can also aid fundraising through online auctions, catalogue selling and secure donations.

It's all a matter of getting the balance right and remembering not to just press the 'reply all' button. Technology is no excuse for not talking to the person at the next desk or handwriting personal letters.

So, the next time you feel your finger poised to press the send button, stop and think. It may be quick, but is this the best form of communication?

Does it need to go now? Can it wait until tomorrow? Usually, you'll find, it can.

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