Some people worry about the end of time. Perhaps we should worry more about the end of free time — which is something to think about while deleting a seemingly endless stream of junk e-mail.
With each new technological advance, Americans work harder than ever. And even with cell phones, computer networks and wireless devices, we're often too busy to keep in touch with the people we love.
What happened to the promise of modern society?
"We get so easily seduced by all these electronic baubles," says futurist David Zach. "But the notion of freeing up time is going away."
Still, an amazing array of new products and services are springing up, almost on a daily basis, for people who have no time for their children, their love lives, and, of course, themselves.
Let's take a look at some of these modern conveniences:
1. The Problem: Wasting Time Checking E-mail
The Solution: The Ambient Orb
What's your obsession? Do you check the stock market 14 times a day and your e-mail twice a minute? Maybe it's time for the Ambient Orb.
This $150 gizmo, which looks like a desktop globe, is designed to wean you off your computer. Just plug it in, and it will let you know when you need to check whatever it is that you're obsessed with.
If you're a stock freak, the Ambient Orb could be set to glow green if the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up, and change to red if the market is down. Amber would mean the market is unchanged.
If you're an e-mail junkie, the Ambient Orb could be programmed to change from green to red every time there are more than 10 unanswered e-mails waiting for you.
The Ambient Orb works on the same technology as a cell phone, and it can be programmed to give you color signals for almost anything — from today's pollen count, to homeland security alerts, to even whether your favorite sports team wins or loses.
The Orb is said to be a great way to get any obsessive computer geek offline. In fact, it glows a special color when it's time to get a life. 2. The Problem: Bailing Out on a Bad Date The Solution: Escape-A-Date Cell Phone Services
It's not that you wouldn't stoop to lying to ditch a lousy date. You just might not be a very good liar. That's when you need "Escape-A-Date" services from Cingular Wireless — a cell phone plan to fake an emergency exit from blind date hell.
Just schedule a "rescue" phone call at a preset time. Then your phone will ring with one of eight 30-second fake emergencies. Perhaps your fictitious roommate is locked out. Maybe you forgot to pick up your pretend aunt from the airport.
"Hey, this is your Escape-A-Date call," your automatic caller will say. "If you're looking for an excuse, I got it. Just repeat after me, and you'll be on your way! 'Not again! Why does that always happen to you? … All right, I'll be right there.' Now tell 'em that your roommate got locked out, and you have to go let them in. Good luck!"
Escape-A-Date costs less than $5 a month. Other cell phone companies are offering similar services, with such names as SOS Call and Rescue Ring.
But what if you want to bail out on a date before it starts? No problem. The Simeda software company now lets clients download fake background noises into their cell phones that are just perfect for whatever excuse you need.
Press a button on your phone and you can conduct a conversation through the fake sounds of a traffic jam or a thunderstorm.