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The ability to be in charge of yourself and your actions requires a few things most of which you were never taught in school, at least not in normal educational venues. You didn’t learn it in kindergarten and you sure didn’t learn in it elementary, middle or high school. You more than likely didn’t learn it in college or graduate school either. If you are lucky you have learned it in life.

Most of us have not. Most people react to the world around them. We live a world that supports and to a large extent focuses on external objects, events and stimuli.  With the wide spread adaption to technologies like: iPhones, text messaging, Twitter and Facebook most of us feel connecte4d 24/7. In fact we can’t put them down. Literally we can’t put them down. One report indicated that 28% of the population took their Smartphone to bed with them. The considered it an appendage. Part of our addiction comes from the reality of what these devices let us accomplish. One mother tells the story of doing work in the hospital while waiting for baby number 3 to arrive…another father talks about accomplishing work for a client in Asia while at the soccer tournament for his son on a Sunday afternoon. There is no question that we can be and are in many cases more productive because of these devices. But we are also on edge. We are afraid to miss out. We are afraid to go to sleep without being connected.  We can’t really rest and we can’t really concentrate. We are on edge, the beeper beeps or the ringtone rings and we respond…we react. We are never truly present to for ourselves, or business or our families.

Blurring the Boundaries

There is a real sense of loss of boundaries. Work has invaded home and home has invaded work. Play is no longer rest and relaxation and work is no longer drudgery and workplace segregation.  On and off has become always on. Social mores and norms for one environment have found their way into the other.  Employees and students are connecting with their devices for email, applications, classes and information.  From the beach, or the slopes or the bathroom, no matter where you go you can connect.  Along with this comes the distinct felling of not being able to unplug. What if you miss something, what if someone important somewhere wants to get in touch with you? What if Publisher’s Clearing house sends that once in a lifetime email and you have to respond in 30 minutes…sounds absurd but it is not.

These new devices have us trained much the same way that Pavlov behaviorally conditioned his dogs.  Fear is a motivator, fear of being the one left out, uninformed, the one not knowing. Much of this motivation is based on the realization the world is moving faster, the world is never unplugged and in order to meet the demand s of the job or at least the perceived demands of the workplace, you must remain plugged in. The workplace we live in is fast paced and always “now”.  But where is the boundary? Where is the off button? When do you disconnect?

Although tools like Skype have allowed us to be in New York and chat with our families in Iran, Singapore and London. They have also taken away boundaries, physical, emotional and psychological. The boundaries are gone and the balance is also going quickly. Who suffers from this breaking down of the walls? You do, your families do and your health may also.

Nine to five is no longer the expectation or the norm for working hours. Many works report feeling that they are enslaved and afraid to disconnect or walk away from their devices. Expectations are not clearly defined. What is expected where and when is very unclear in most cases. Expectations both of the self and of others are not clear. Everyone has had the experience with either a child or a spouse or a partner that was trying to get ahold of them and called the cell phone excessively or sent far too many texts in far too short a time in an emotionally frantic state.  This is just ludicrously is compounded by different time zones and cultural traditions. How about the online teacher who gets the Skype call at 10:30PM on a Sunday night or an email at 2AM from a student who wants an answer the next day? What is expected?

Much of the ability to distinguish and create and adhere to boundaries falls on the individual. Many people have segregated their connections based on devices and iPhone for home and a Blackberry for work and a laptop for the office and a Google Pad for fun. Multiple connection devices is becoming more and more the norm. By this method we are isolating but combining all the aspects of our lives. Separate and maybe equal and certainly never off. The idea of multitasking is a lie. The reality of less attention to everything is what is pervasive.  Flexibility in balancing your personal and work life has come at a very expensive and important price.  Separate email addresses, separate devices, maybe even separate calendars or contact list gives us a sense of separation of work and play. It gives us a sense that the office doesn’t know about your dinner party on Saturday night or your daughter’s orthodontist appointment.   But many folks don’t even make this distinction, frustrated with trying to keep up with too many devices and emails and calendar they have amalgamated it all into to Outlook or Gmail or something. Whatever bucket is holding it the boundary of time and attention has probably been broken down and dissolved anyway.