Unless you’ve been living in a cave since the mid-90’s, it’s probably not news to you that the domination of electronic technology in our lives is growing to a level that not only threatens to do great harm to our overall quality of life, but there is overwhelming evidence that significant damage has already occurred.
The amount of time that we are spending relating to and through our devices has grown exponentially in recent years and the cost of that growth has come largely at the expense of the things that are seen as the essential factors in promoting good health, quality relationships, and a high level of personal well being. Because we all have a finite amount of time and energy available to devote to the ways in which we choose to spend our time, more screen time means less time for other activities. In other words, when you add another variable to the equation, something’s gotta give.
Apparently what has been giving is what been referred to as “quality time”. What most people are referring to when they use that phrase is time that is spent in service to an intention to provide experiences that promote fulfillment, interpersonal connection, meaning, pleasure, and an overall sense of well being.
Two widely-held beliefs assert that quality time can be achieved by relating through electronic devices, and that a deficiency of face-to-face time can be compensated for by more Facebook time. The indisputable fact is that there is a real difference between relating to someone electronically and communicating with them when you are in each other’s physical presence. Which is not to say that face-to-face interactions are the only kind of communication that is worth having. There is no question that there are numerous aspects of electronic communication and messaging that are time saving, expeditious, and efficient, especially in the domain of work. When it comes to exchanging or delivering information, emails, cell-phones, and text messages can get the job done much faster and efficiently than face to face conversations, particularly if you’re speaking with someone in another city or another continent!
Yet there can be such a thing as too much of a good thing. In a world in which the norm has become the expectation that workers of all levels are expected to be available and responsive to electronic messages 24/7, breaking free from our attachment (literally!) to our devices can seem impossible.
A 2012 survey by the Center for Creative Leadership found that 60% of smart-phone using professionals kept in touch with work for 13.5 hours a day, and another 5 hours on email during each weekend, totaling a workweek of 72 hours. Another survey carried out by Good Technology, a mobile-software company interviewed 1,000 workers. They found that 68% routinely checked email before 8:00AM. 50% checked email while in bed, and 38% checked while at the dinner table. The American Psychological Association reports that 44% of working adults check work email daily while on vacation. One in ten of them check hourly.
Since other workers are spending time from supposedly off hours, tending to communication from their bosses and colleagues, many people take it for granted that such intrusions are simply a normal part of work. In an effort to normalize the encroachment of work onto our personal lives, many of us rationalize that this provides us with more flexibility in the workday. Yet the research done by Center for Creative Leadership found that those workers who did not own a smart phone attended to personal tasks during workday hours with the same frequency as those who are checking their messages throughout the day.
It may appear that employers and supervisors are exploiting and stealing time from their employees and that their employees are letting them. But according to the Pew Research group, everyone, including higher-level executives are not spared.
Workplace research has found some organizations that have challenged the prevailing view that “full-time” means 24/7 availability. These studies are showing that formerly burned out and overly stressed employees can recover from “toxic work syndrome” without diminishing the company’s productivity level, provided the organization creates and continues to enforce policies that are more limited in their expectations of their employees availability. CEO David Morken at Bandwith, a tech company with 300 employees has found that once the work/family ratio is in balance, those working in his organization become more relaxed, creative, and productive on the job. The workers report that they experience higher levels of both work and life satisfaction.
While Bandwith may be a relatively small organization, pioneering the way to a more humanized business sector. It isn’t necessary to wait until your workplace institutes changes in it’s policies and expectations to free yourself from the tyranny of the enslavement to technology that is so endemic in our culture. Here are some steps that you can take right now!
Transforming a technology compulsion to an option is no easy feat in an on-line world where the expectation for many is continual connection and instantaneous response. The good news, however, is that it is possible to loosen the grip of social “norms” and become free to manage our personal and work-related relationships in ways that are life enhancing, rather than life-numbing. Others are doing it and so can you!
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Last reviewed: 23 Jun 2014