The always-on social impacts

My friend Steve has just posted a really interesting article on the business case for PDA’s, but most importantly the impacts of the Always on Society.

It’s very interesting observing the social impacts of the working environment that people are forced to work in. I wrote the other day about the general working environment and it’s impact personally on my productivity. (Today I am working from home and it’s Friday s feel great). But it’s a really interesting thing to observe how other people interact with technology and the various connection infrastructures that they have.

Sue, my wife, is an interesting example. She works as a Pastoral Worker for our church (a voluntary position, but no less demanding) and the way that she interacts with the various connection infrastructures is fascinating.

When we come home from holiday, or even a short break, Sue has established a routine that drives me nuts, but is actually no different to the way so many people interact with their connection infrastructures. On films people returning from holiday, walk through the door with bags in hands, turn to each other, have a big hug and say something like ‘it’s great to be home’. Not in my house, are you kidding. As soon as Sue gets through the door she picks up the post and goes straight to the phone which will inevitably be flashing with a number of messages. These messages will be the few messages that have been left in the last 24 hours, because she has already phoned it every day while we have been away. And while she is walking around with the hands-free phone listening to the messages she walks into the study turns the PC on and sits down. She then goes through the post while the PC is booting up (still listening to messages) and down-loading the emails. She then goes through the emails. As a man this is infuriating because I am, of course, completely superfluous to this activity (there is nothing worse for a man than to feel redundant). So what do I do, I go and get the bags in from the car of course.

The thing is, these messages and emails can be anything. It’s not primarily personal correspondence that she is dealing with here, it’s primarily work related. And because she is a pastoral worker these messages can be anything and generally include births, deaths, sickness, upset, separation; anyone of the full spectrum of life’s highs and lows.

Yet, just because it is there, she needs to reconnect herself. She knows it drives me mad, and she knows that for me it marks a stark and sudden end to a holiday that I would rather keep going for a few hours.

I don’t take a laptop on holiday, not because I will fell the need to stay connected, because I know Sue will need to.

The other thing she has is the need to read text messages as soon as they arrive, wherever whenever, even if it’s late at night. For me, it’s more likely that the message itself will spoil my nights sleep, for Sue, the knowledge that there is some information that she doesn’t have will definitely spoil her nights sleep.

Now, there is some logic to all of this. And I’m not saying I’m right and she is wrong. I’m just saying we are different. For Sue, she would rather get all of the information in small doses. Just because she has the information doesn’t mean she worries about it. For me, I’d rather not have the information at all, because I do worry about it. Not sure whether that’s a man-woman thing, or whether it’s our different personalities. What it does mean is that she sneaks away while we are on holiday to phone home and listen to the messages and that definitely troubles me, because it feels a bit like she is behaving like an addict would. She only does it because she knows it winds me up, I’m sure.

Anyway, at today’s level of technology there is a certain level of disconnection. If we are camping in Northern Scotland there is no mobile signal and I’m not driving to a phone box so she can listen to the messages. But those days are rapidly coming to a close. So what will it take for us to fully understand what we are doing to ourselves in being this connected and when will we understand how to train people how to deal with his level of connectivity. How do you train someone to turn off a mobile phone? How do you train someone to know that stuff happens and to relax in it? How do we change the technology so that we get the really important stuff and not the dross? I have a colleague who sends everything to me as ‘urgent’ and it’s not. One of these days he’ll send me something really important and I’ll miss it.

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