Thursday, December 30, 2004

Time crunches and technology

This is apparently an old article, but it was linked off of Slashdot today:

Life interrupted: Plugged into it all, we're stressed to distraction

It's an interesting (if somewhat long) article, although nothing that hasn't been discussed in the media before. But after reading the article, I want to comment on one general idea that this article and others like it address: technological advances increasing the amount of work we do or have to do or should be doing.

I do agree with this, up to a point. But I do think that this will end up benefitting us in the long run. I think that what this technology is starting to do, and will ultimately do, is change the nature of "work". And the future nature of work will be less the 24/7 model of today, but rather a more healthful integration of work and life.

The problem as I see it with technology and the 24/7 work mentality today is this: We still think of "work" as something that has to be done at a certain place, in a certain block of time. We're still operating under the "office" mentality: I go somewhere, I get there at 8 or whatever, I put in 8 hours, I come home. But this might not work for you. Maybe you're not a morning person. Maybe you work best in the morning and evening, but the afternoon is a wash. (This is how I work....I am super-productive in the morning and then I get a second wind around 4, but between noon and 4 I am really not motivated to do much of anything.) Maybe you work best if you work in 2-hour chunks. The problem is, you're stuck in your office, and so you have to pretend to be productive. And if you happen to not be productive during the work day, well then, you'll be taking that stuff home with you to finish later.

I don't think we as a society have embraced this technology fully yet and allowed it to redefine how, when, and where we work. Telecommuting is a fabulous idea, but very few people do it and very few companies have embraced it. We move everywhere for our jobs. But in some (most?) cases, technology removes that barrier. So why are we still doing this?

The other point is that to adopt this model of work---and in general, to not allow technology to tether us to our work if we so choose---requires a good deal of discipline. And discipline is hard. Achieving balance is hard. Prioritizing is hard. Saying no is hard. But these are necessary skills we're going to have to learn and embrace if we want to reclaim our personal lives from our work lives.

One last point. The article also laments the fact that our work is now limited to short time bursts, because of all the interruptions. While there are times that I need or want a stretch of a few hours to get something (anything!) done, I think there is some merit in the shorter bursts. For some tasks, like planning lectures, I work best in shorter bursts. (Or maybe it's because I'm naturally restless and I've trained myself to work in shorter bursts out of necessity?)

This post got a bit longer than I intended, so if you're still reading, thanks. I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this. Has technology taken over your life? Are you ok with this or do you dream about running away to a deserted island with no phone and no email?


New Kid on the Hallway said...

I feel like technology has certainly changed my life, but I'm not sure I'd say it's taken over. But I love my technology; I can't imagine getting away from e-mail or the web. I think for me it provides an essential social element to the anti-social nature of doing research (I know traditionally people complain that technology is isolating and that people turn to technology rather than dealing with folks face to face, but that's not the case for me).

Having said that, I probably do a lot less of that research what with all the time I spend online...

Jane said...

You know, I thought about that too---has the Internet really cut into my research time? At first glance, it seems as though it has. But when I think back, I see that the Internet has just replaced other time-wasting mechanisms, like playing Solitaire. So I probably spend about the same amount of time on work as I did before the Internet came along.