Will technology help us control ourselves?

On Wednesday, December 29, there was an article syndicated by Associated Press writer Leanne Italie entitled “Americans turn to technology to control impulses.” I read it online at the WashingtonPost.com: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/29/AR2010122902565.html.

Italie surveys the way that people are using computers, smart phones, and other gadgets to:

1. Prevent distractions from work by limiting their access to the Internet.
2. Prevent texting while driving.
3. Prevent driving under the influence.
4. Provide coaching while exercising.
5. Prevent dialing under the influence!

Some of these controls are voluntary and self-selected. Some are imposed by parents on teens and others are imposed by law enforcement.

While I applaud everyone’s efforts in training themselves and others in better or more lawful behavior, I can see some problems in getting the people who need such powerful and convenient help to actually use these wonderful apps and gadgets. And, I’m concerned that those who have this helpful technology imposed upon them involuntarily will find a way to thwart the intended help.

The guy that referred this article to me, did so with a sneer. He asked, “what is wrong with people that they don’t learn self-control and self-discipline? Why do they need someone else or something else to impose it for them?”

And that is the same reasoning that I have heard from the very people who need externally imposed controls and disciplines as an excuse not to have any externally imposed controls or disciplines. The attitude is: “I don’t need something like that, it’s something I should be able to do myself. I just need to work on that. I don’t really have a problem.”

I’ve also heard it used as an excuse for avoiding group therapy or psychotherapy or other forms of psychological, social, or even medical assistance.

Then there are the terminally disorganized, perpetually late, and frequently unproductive people, who refused to use such tools as “to-do” lists, schedules, appointment books, filing systems, alarms, reminders, etc. and won’t use office organization services. They don’t believe that “normal” people need such things, and since they don’t wish to seem abnormal, they simply won’t use them. But, they certainly are going to work on that to get better at it, they will sincerely assure you.

The truth is that no matter how much self-discipline and self-control you have, there is plenty that you can do to improve. Organization and productivity tools are, in fact, perfect examples of the kinds of external disciplines that almost everyone needs. Physicians, lawyers, psychologists, and other professionals would be unable to run their practices without such external assistance.

The kinds of memory, self-control, and/or self-discipline required for many of the tasks in our lives are often different. You can learn all kinds of self-control and self-discipline, but that learning takes time. So, if there is a tool or technique that can externally impose the discipline upon you, you can get the immediate benefit of the discipline; and your continued use of the tool or technique, far from being a mere crutch, will actually help you to become trained in the control or discipline that you want.

Read Italie’s article. Look up the apps and devices mentioned. Do some research. See if you can find some apps or gadgets that will help you in areas where your self-control and/or self-discipline isn’t exactly what you would like it to be.