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Electronic Marvels Spurned

Our Point of ViewRing, ring. That sound isn’t callers reaching smartphones, but rather cash registers tallying returns of the wireless devices, as frustrated users give up trying to figure out how to work them. Smartphones ranked as the most returned electronic gift purchased this past holiday season, according to a recent survey by Opinion Research Corp. in Princeton. The main reason given for the givebacks was difficulty with the set-up process.

What the survey didn’t track was our increasing reliance on electronic devices to make us smarter, faster and more efficient. We no longer are tethered to banking hours, with online transactions available 24 hours a day. We no longer wait in line to pay highway tolls when E-ZPass lets us, well, pass through with ease.

But everything has a price—tolls, with or without E-ZPass, being the latest, most talked-about example. Ubiquitous e-mail demonstrates the double-edged sword. We no longer have to wait two days for a message to arrive by snail mail; even faxes are too slow these days. But e-mail creates an ever-growing inbox of to-do tasks each morning—the first one being to sort through all the messages. And for those armed with a BlackBerry or similar wireless device, receiving and responding to e-mail can be an addictive way of life.

Technology that starts out as a servant easily morphs into a master that dictates how people spend their days. So there may be virtue in the fact some gadgets scare off prospective users, creating fewer digital dependencies for people to have.

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