The Washington Post, reporting from Austin, provided coverage of South by Southwest 2012. While there were certainly gadgets galore, applications abounding, and technology that teased, today’s article brought up the premise that technology threatens the fabric of our relationships. The intrusion of interruptive “advances” can overwhelm the brain, says Amber Case, a cyborg anthropologist.
Avi Zev Weider offered a documentary for screening, “Welcome to the Machine,” that attempted to ask the question of how inter-human relationships are compromised. Similar to the Matrix film series, there was a strong undercurrent that the network is not always our friend and we need downtime, to unplug and be human and regenerate.
How does this vein of thought factor into our office environments? The tyranny of emails, interoffice communications, tweets, posts, etc can overwhelm even the most resolute worker. I’ve been in many businesses wherein the employees–even department heads–are afraid to walk away from their desks for fear that they may receive a communication to which they do not have the opportunity to respond in real time.
There is something inherently wrong with being captive to the powerful tools that were created–ostensibly–to make our lives better. In working with employees in a number of companies, I have given the employees permission to work strategically on projects, check their messages according to a predetermined schedule, and enjoy the resulting focus, clarity, and peace of mind.
In my own life, it can be harder to set the smartphone down when I know someone may try to communicate with me. The Tweets, email messages on my work email, emails on my home email, text messages from family & friends, alerts that I’ve set up to keep the day flowing, blog updates, LinkedIn updates, etc just keep rolling in and it can be soooo seductive to allow the flow to determine my pace and disposition.
What can we collectively do? Simple, purposeful choices can break the habitual “checking in” that can be so distracting. Determine when you will pick up your cell–make it less frequent than you’ve been observing. Schedule email reading and response time. Most importantly–schedule “think” and “rest” times. Without them, our collective quality of life, contentment on and off the job, and health–physical and emotional–will all suffer.