I am sure there is a name for us, those people who have traversed the pre and post Internet eras. It is with great amusement that I see the reactions of young people in my business when I tell them that when I started out in my career there was no internet or email. It is quite something that in my career of 18 years we have gone from no internet or email at work and lets face it limited mobile phone usage to the Apple watch.
So what impact has that had on our lives? We have imperceptibly been on a technology creep around work that has blurred the lines between work and home, work and family and without being able to identify when or how it started. It got me thinking about the new starters who are immediately looking to get a phone or blackberry/iPhone and how that is probably where it all started – status. It started with status and the attainment of that position coming with a phone (no email) and or laptop which of course has now moved towards almost universal connectivity for all.
Even when we had blackberries there appeared to still be boundaries around holidays and out of hours, there was a start and finish to the day but that has disappeared now. We are all working night and day now, we work as our children swing or slide, we work as we take that long drive or wait at the airport to go on holiday. Emails come and go at all hours, and the all hours really does become all hours as we work in an ever more global marketplace. Our colleagues scattered all over the world each either at work or at home, sending that odd email. So that got me thinking about whether we are all living far more stressful lives than those of the 80s or the 90s. No escape, no off switch. When you went on holiday back then, that was it, you were off, and you could relax, no expectation, no ‘could you just join this call’ you were OUT. Weekends were weekends, as you got on the train or jumped in the car that closed the shute and gave you a chance to reflect and consider the week that was and the week to come.
The impact is worse than that though, what impact at home? How much more is the family affected by this than you – how many times are you zoning out of the present to read, respond to a message – did it annoy you and change your mood. How many times did you hear ‘Daaaad?’ ‘come on dad’ because you were distracted. None of this happened before the technology, we were all present, in the moment. Technology creep has eroded into home life, friend life. We have become a nation of screen starers and we all know it, but can’t stop it.
But hold on, is it all bad? As someone who travels a lot technology has helped me, it has kept me connected to my family more than I could ever have done before. Now I can see and talk to my wife and son when I am away, I am able to send photos and videos at the touch of a button. I can work instead of killing time at airports – I can keep working wherever I am instead of it all piling up for my return and perhaps making me go into the office at the weekend. The ability to work remotely is also a new opportunity for the modern businessman. But here in lies the problem and the reason we can’t stop. We can work everywhere and ‘spread out the work’ so as to minimise home disruption. We now only need to glance at our phones every half an hour rather than take a full two hours out of the day, but I think that is more corrosive than locking yourself away for an hour.
So where does that leave us in this constant battle with technology – it starts with us. It starts with the standards we set for each other and what our expectations are of each other. I have three rules, one for me and two for people who work for me that I try to stick to at all times unless there is something extraordinary. The first is that when someone is on holiday, let them have that time uninterrupted. Don’t tempt them in, don’t encourage communication. The second is to not expect communication at the weekends (I fail a little at this by emailing at weekends but I don’t expect responses) The third is for me, it is not new but I do believe in it, if you have a stressful job then don’t look at your email when you first wake up, in fact give yourself a chance to wake, dress, eat, speak before being pulled into email because you don’t know what you will find there and it is proven to increase stress levels overall if it starts first thing in the morning.
We cant stop the technology creep, we can only become more disciplined with it and I will be looking to improve myself for the sake of home and family.