On Blurred Lines

Today, I received an unwanted “gift” at work: a Blackberry. I’m not thrilled.

The Blackberry becomes yet another piece of technology I lug from home to work and back. Catch me on my commute and you’ll find a sad man carrying his iPhone, a laptop, and a Blackberry. On top of that, just a few inches from the hand carrying the laptop bag will be my Apple Watch. At this point, I’m a cyborg. Maybe I’ve gone full-on Darth Vader: more machine than man.

More than all the tech to keep up with, I don’t like the expectation of the Blackberry, the idea that work never ends, that we are never “off.” Today, a colleague sincerely and happily shared that, during his morning commute, he uses his Blackberry to organize his work e-mail. Shouldn’t your commute be for listening to talk radio, sipping coffee, and fighting off episodes of road rage from other motorists?

Isn’t it interesting that we think nothing of taking our work home with us, but our employers would surely balk if we brought the laundry in to the office. “Sorry, boss, didn’t have time to separate the colors from the whites last night, so thought I could do it here in-between collating this report and rescheduling the company picnic.” Such an employee would soon have plenty of time to do the laundry. Why is it okay for work to bleed into home, but it is so clearly not okay for home to bleed into work? Why have we made these concessions?

Surely politics and economics drive a culture that allows for work to dominate life, but we also can’t deny the very real presence of an America ethos that prizes not just hard work but, rather, work that causes us to suffer. A recent truck commercial made fun of the number of vacation days European workers receive and take. Now, truck commercials are always pissing contests helping men overcome their shortcomings with bigger engines, but maybe, just maybe, hidden not so subtly in that truck commercial was something else entirely: envy. Surely there must be some small part of our national consciousness that knows we’ve screwed things up. When you’re wearing as a badge of honor the fact that you can’t take time off of work, you’ve lost a little perspective.

We are working longer, harder, and more productively than ever. And that’s not just a feeling. Study after study shows that American workers are the best they’ve ever been. But we keep wanting more (and being paid less, but that’s for another post). It’s not enough to be great for 40 hours anymore. We look down on those of our friends and neighbors that “only” work 8 hours per day. That aren’t always “on,” always connected, always available. We see such workers as somehow less serious, less dedicated. What no one ever points out, however, is that maybe people who work only 40 hours per week are, in fact, less dedicated to work because they are more dedicated to their family. Maybe even just more dedicated to having a life. Why does our national conversation presume work to be the highest rung of life worthy of dedication?

There’s a great line in “Jurassic Park” where Jeff Goldblum’s character chastises the dinosaur park’s owner, saying that the park’s scientists were so busy figuring out if they could clone dinosaurs that they never stopped to consider if they should. Our approach to work and the growing demand to always be connected feels a lot like that. Sure, now we have the technology to check in on work e-mail at 3AM, but, just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

I remember as a child in school thinking that, when I joined the workforce, the work week would only be four days long. Maybe even three. With the advancements in technology, it seemed only logical that people would throw off the yoke of work and reward themselves with more time to pursue other interests. It still seems like a great, common sense thought. But obviously that has not come to pass.

At 6pm today, I shut down my work computer, changed into my clothes for a workout at the gym, slung my backpack over my shoulder, and walked out of my office…my Blackberry sitting comfortably in a locked drawer in my desk. Physically and mentally, my load was lighter. The work will be there, waiting for me, in the morning. Nothing will change, no one will die, no will even know, except for me. I know not everyone has the luxury to disconnect, but isn’t it a shame that’s the case? If 40 good hours per week isn’t enough, we’ve taken a wrong turn, and no amount of technology can help us get back on track.

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