Business

Technology saves us from ourselves

NEW YORK - Dan Nainan can't trust himself to work at his computer without clicking on distractions, so he uses an Internet-blocking program to shut down his Web access twice a day.

“I’m sorry, but try as I might, I could never, ever do this on my own,” said the New York City comedian who’s struggling to finish a book. “I wish I could, but I just don’t have the discipline.”

Nainan’s system of two, two-hour blocks is one example of how Americans are trying to control their impulses using technology that steps in to enforce good behavior.

With the new year days away, many tools are now available to help people stay in line, including a GPS-enabled app that locks down texting once a car gets rolling and a program that cuts off credit-card spending. Another device monitors your workout and offers real-time voice feedback.

Have we entered an era in which electronics serve as mother, cop and coach because we can’t manage our own desires?

Yep, said Ann Mack, a trend-watcher for JWT Intelligence, an arm of the marketing giant. She named “outsourcing self-control” and “de-teching” as two top trends for the new year.

“The thing is we’re becoming more aware of these behaviors, and as a result, we’re trying to seek help to circumvent some of our more base impulses,” Mack said.

Tools to cope with temptation are everywhere. Some car owners are voluntarily using a technology developed for convicted drunken drivers – ignition locks attached to in-car breath analyzers.

Shelley Snyder, marketing coordinator for Intoxalock, said about 1.5 percent of the company’s clients are voluntary, which includes parents imposing the setup on their young drivers.

One of Intoxalock’s competitors, Guardian Interlock Systems, said its figures are slightly higher: 5 to 7 percent of clients are drivers voluntarily installing the equipment, with about 2 percent intended for use by teens.

Also gaining ground are clients using the system permanently after they’ve completed court-ordered monitoring – about 1 percent of Guardian’s clients in 2010, compared with none the year before.

If your drunken behavior tends to cause more remorse off the road than on, there’s an app for that as well.

A handful – including “Don’t Dial!” and “The Bad Decision Blocker” – will cut off your access to phone numbers for up to 24 hours, the former allowing you to name a friend as gatekeeper. Another app requires the answers to math questions before allowing you to send an e-mail, the presumption being it’s really hard to do math while somehow impaired.

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