Mark D. Roberts

Is digital technology making your life better . . . or worse? Is work invading your personal life, if you have a personal life left? Is your personal life interrupting your work, making you more distracted and less effective?

A recent story in the New York Times wrestles with questions like these, offering a variety of answers. Here’s how “Who’s the Boss, You or Your Gadget?” begins:

GIVEN the widespread adoption of smartphones, text messaging, video calling and social media, today’s professionals mean it when they brag about staying connected to work 24/7.

Technology allowed Karen Riley-Grant, a manager at Levi Strauss in San
Francisco, to take care of some business with her New York publicist
while she was in labor in the hospital last November. “I had time on my
hands,” she says, and “full strength on my phone — five bars.”

It once enabled Craig Wilson, an executive at Avaya in Toronto, to take
his children to a Linkin Park concert and be able to duck out to finish
a task for a client in Australia, he says, “without disruption to my
family commitment or my work commitment.”

Does this encourage you . . . or horrify you? Or something in-between? Does the gain in work make up for the loss in being in the moment?

The article adds:

But all of this amped-up productivity comes with a growing sense of
unease. Too often, people find themselves with little time to
concentrate and reflect on their work. Or to be truly present with their
friends and family.


There’s a palpable sense “that home has invaded work and work has
invaded home and the boundary is likely never to be restored,” says Lee
Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center‘s Internet and American Life Project. “The new gadgetry,” he adds, “has really put this issue into much clearer focus.”

Robert Sutton, a professor at Stanford weighs in:

The good news about technology, he says, is you can be anywhere and
still work. The bad news, he says, is that “anywhere you are, you have
to work.”

Too much connectivity can damage the quality of one’s work, says Robert Sutton, author of “Good Boss, Bad Boss
and a professor at Stanford. Because of devices, he says, “nobody seems
to actually pay full attention; everybody is doing a worse job because
they are doing more things.”

Mobile devices and social media, he says, “make us a little more
oblivious, a little more incompetent.” Just recall those pilots who overshot their destination two years ago because they were using computers, he adds.

“The emotionally compelling nature of the device and live information it
carries — and the intermittent reinforcement it carries, plus the
pressure of living in a world where for many people ‘immediately’ now
really means immediately — causes people to be entranced by their
devices and to ignore real life as it unfolds in front of them,”
Professor Sutton says.

The article contains several examples of people trying to balance the demands of work and personal life in a technology-permeated world.

What do you think? Is technology allowing us to live with greater freedom? Or is it turning us into digital slaves? Are digital media enriching your life? Or are they impoverishing it? Or both?

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