When Technology Interferes With Productivity

By William Shanklin 

Individuals doing business in the racing industry have found that mobile communications devices are simultaneously a boon and a burden. Trainers, for example, can more easily update their owners, but the downside is they can be swamped by incoming messages. Utilizing cell phones, computers, and e-mail without becoming a slave to them is a balancing act.  

Results from an MIT study entitled “CrackBerrys: Exploring the Social Implications of Ubiquitous Wireless Email Devices” contrasted the benefits of staying connected in a 24/7 world with the social costs of blurring the line between work and personal time. The MIT inquiry is just one of many that have explored how mobile devices and the Internet have dramatically changed the way people live and work.

There are three lines of interest on this subject.

First, psychological implications—such as compulsive Internet behavior—are attracting attention. For instance, citing scientific studies, Forbes magazine recently wrote: “Just as cigarettes came to be viewed as nicotine delivery systems, mobile computers and phones may really be neurotransmitter delivery devices,” and addiction is perfectly understandable from the experimental work of the behavioral-conditioning pioneers Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner.  

Anyone who regularly sits in group meetings has observed a few attendees peeking at their mobile devices to check their e-mail, as though nobody notices.  
Second, mobile devices, carelessly used, have proved to be safety hazards. A text-messaging train engineer in 2008 caused a California wreck that killed 25 people and injured 135.  

A third ramification is workplace productivity. According to a New York Times article, “A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times.” RescueTime, a firm that analyzes computer habits of “40,000 people who have tracking software on their computers, found that on average, the worker also stops at 40 web sites over the course of the day.”

A racing-related business needs to determine which of its employees have to be available to outsiders in real time and which do not. Stallion-booking agents, partnership sales representatives, and others who continually interface with the public must be very accessible via telephone and e-mail.  

However, top executives of farms, racetracks, and other equine enterprises are another matter, as they can actually be too connected. Organizational leaders who become immersed in sending and answering e-mails, or surfing the Internet, are usually not making the most productive use of their time. Executives also must be careful about what they put into words via hastily written e-mails.
The job description for high-ranking members is weighted toward strategic tasks rather than tactical ones. Keeping constant track of the latest pieces of information appearing on a BlackBerry or iPhone is not a strategic approach; important decisions made reactively to daily or hourly vagaries are usually not sufficiently contemplated.

William Shanklin, a longtime contributor to The Blood-Horse, is the publisher of the web site horseracingbusiness.com

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