I GUESS YOU COULD CALL ME a conscientious consumer. My office at home has at least one of every single essential, nonessential and downright silly electronic gadget you can think of. Never one to let money burn a hole in my pocket, I\u2019ve managed somehow?through the artful combination of satellite television, fast Internet connections flashing stock quotes and news, three e-mail addresses and a killer sound system accessing the biggest MP3 collection around?to convert what was supposed to be a sanctuary of contemplation and concentration into an opportunity for perpetual distraction.While I don\u2019t suffer any serious addictions, I, like most people, crave all kinds of things that aren\u2019t good for me. Besides the obvious french fries, fast cars and John Waters films, I have a craving for distraction over concentration. In fact, most of us would do anything to avoid being alone with our thoughts. I start my car and turn on the radio; I enter my hotel room and turn on the TV; I listen to music while I cut the grass. Bad. Sometimes the temptation to screw around with my toys instead of work gets so overwhelming, I have to throw a laptop in my car and go park under a tree somewhere. Real bad. I\u2019m sitting in my car right now. Distractions are wireless now. It doesn\u2019t help much. Until recently, I\u2019ve been a big fan of wireless technology. It\u2019s worth remembering that wireless may be news, but it\u2019s not new. The oldest, and certainly most cherished, wireless device in my house is my TV remote. On the one hand, this device is so important that I won\u2019t watch TV without holding it in my hand. On the other, it\u2019s done nothing to change the intrinsic value of TV and nothing to improve the quality of programming. In fact, it may have made it worse.Wireless is an add-on that does nothing to improve the importance or desirability of the technology it\u2019s grafted to but somehow seems indispensable once it\u2019s added. The fawning attention wireless is getting lately seems totally out of proportion to its potential, especially given its considerable and even dangerous downside.Perhaps it\u2019s true that all the really important inventions are behind us, and this is what we\u2019ve got left to get excited about. What I mean is, an American living 70 years ago, in 1931, has far more in common with us (airplanes, radio, home appliances, intercontinental mass transit, telephones) than with Americans living 70 years earlier in 1861. The difference between the telephone of 1931 and the cell phone is mobility, a nice enhancement to be sure but, like the TV remote, not indispensable to the telephone\u2019s telephoneness.(Note to AT&T Wireless advertising department: In case you hadn\u2019t noticed, accessing the Internet using a cell phone or PDA is like watching the circus through a hole in the tent.) If a new technology came along that was 20 percent good and 80 percent bad, would we all still get behind it? Yeah, we probably would. I suppose I should have seen this trouble coming. I finally realized wireless\u2019s potential impact during my last business trip to Singapore in March 1999. (Note to U.S. airline executives: The best way to get to Singapore is to fly to LAX, then ride Singapore Airlines nonstop right into Changi Airport. To get an idea of what U.S. air travel might have been like at its most luxurious, ride any class of service on Singapore Airlines to anywhere.) The flight was great, as usual, but 11 hours is still a long time to sit. I grabbed my bag, cleared customs and jumped into the backseat of a waiting car, next to one of our regional vice presidents who was stationed there. She barely looked up from her laptop as I climbed in, and we were on our way to the office while she pounded furiously on her keyboard.I was hot and sticky, and my brain was not firing on all cylinders because of jet lag. For a while I stared blankly at the buildings whizzing by and then noticed that there was a plastic box, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, glued to the inside of the windshield. I asked the driver what it was, and he told me it was a transmitter that the government mandated for all cars in order to collect tolls for using Singapore\u2019s excellent expressways. The system had taken years to put in at an enormous cost. When I inquired about the tolls, I was surprised to learn that they were very low, almost nominal. I turned to the regional VP and said, "Why would the government bother to put in such an expensive system to collect so little revenue?" Seeming to take no notice of my question, she scowled at her screen and periodically tapped the mouse button. While I\u2019d been gazing out the window, she had attached her cell phone to a port on her laptop and was attempting to send some e-mail. The signal strength on her phone fluctuated wildly as we wound around the downtown skyscrapers. Finally she looked at me rather crossly and said, "This almost never works without dropping the connection?can\u2019t you get your people to fix it??and anyway, they didn\u2019t put that toll system in to collect tolls, they put it in to keep track of where people are!"Creepy. That one angry, run-on sentence told me everything I didn\u2019t want to know about the wireless revolution. That she couldn\u2019t wait the additional 10 minutes to get to the office to send her e-mails seemed downright nuts. That a government would use this technology to pinpoint the whereabouts and movements of its citizens seemed (to a chronically naive American) downright sinister. Well, guess what? Things aren\u2019t much different here at home. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has mandated that by this fall, new cell phones must be equipped with location-tracking technology that will enable 911 personnel to locate callers within a few hundred feet. There are currently no offsetting regulations or legislation to control how the information might be shared or used either within the government or with commercial entities. The possible applications of wireless fall into three distinct categories, and two of them are bad. Besides the obvious and perhaps only real benefit?a cell phone\u2019s ability to pinpoint a caller\u2019s location in an emergency?this is technology with the power to harass and the power to invade privacy in profound and heretofore unimaginable ways.Time to pull out the ol\u2019 moral compass, folks. As both purveyors and potential users and abusers of this technology, CIOs, individually and collectively, must insist, either by legislation or policy, that our companies protect the fundamental privacy not only of our customers but of our fellow employees. It\u2019s time to decide what we will and won\u2019t do for a paycheck, because if we don\u2019t, the golden age of IT?the notion of information technology as a constructive force?is over.You see, the new regulations amount to an unfunded mandate. Making mobile phones capable of tracking locations will involve planting GPS chips in the handsets or installing new infrastructure in cell sites. The billions spent in compliance to outfit the approximately 110 million cell phones is being shouldered entirely by the cellular providers, which plan commercial uses for the technology to recoup their costs. Think telemarketers\u2019 calls at dinnertime are annoying? Imagine walking past a drugstore when suddenly your phone rings. You answer, and a recorded message tells you that the store you\u2019re standing in front of has a sale on bunion pads. Imagine a stalker being able to dial into a service and get the exact location of a member of your family.Imagine any way this information might be misused and someone will try it.Perhaps hundreds of thousands of people will simply pitch their phones off a bridge rather than put up with this nonsense. But for many, who for practical or policy reasons carry a phone for work, that isn\u2019t an option. Will you implement tracking systems to report on your fellow employees\u2019 movements out of the office? Will you sell the information to marketers?Getting effective governance in place is not somebody else\u2019s problem. It is our problem because, in the end, we\u2019ll be the ones charged with making it work. We need to look up from our distractions for a moment and fix this.