We’ve all had those moments sitting at the dinner table and our phone goes off. A new email has arrived. Or maybe it happens at 11 pm right as you are settling into bed for the night. You tell yourself it will only take 5 minutes, but those 5 minutes can quickly turn into a half hour of work. Once it becomes the norm to be “on call” 24/7, it can be hard to break the cycle.
Why do we keep our phones next to our bed? Why do we allow our work email to keep us from enjoying our friends and family at the dinner table? It isn’t because we are addicted to our gadgets; it is because our work culture is broken.
I loved a recent article from Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic called “Are We Addicted to Gadgets or Indentured to Work?”
He points out the flaw in focusing on gadget addiction. We’re looking in the wrong place, he says.
“To elide that one of the reasons we spend so many hours in front of our screens is that we have to misses the key point about our relationship with modern technology. The upper middle class... is WORKING MORE HOURS and having to stay more connected TO WORK than ever before. This is a problem with the way we approach labor, not our devices. Our devices enabled employers to make their employees work 24/7, but it is our strange American political and cultural systems that have allowed them to do so.
Imagine if 19th-century factory workers blamed the clock for the length of their work days. The answer to the horrible working conditions of the late 19th century was not to smash the clocks or the steam engines! The solution was to organize and fight for your right to a 40-hour week and paid vacations.”
The 40-hour work week and paid vacations have now evolved into 50+ hour work weeks, office politics, and presenteeism games.
Case in point, "expert" advice in Forbes about how to fake being an "always on employee":
“Choose at least one widely distributed email to respond to at 10 p.m./11 p.m. to appear as if your hours go late into the night. Don’t get sucked into reading all your email. Just weigh in on the one that everyone else is responding to. Repeat as soon as you wake up, ideally before 7 a.m.”
Seriously? This is how we're reacting to the study that says bosses are counting face time now more than ever.
It is estimated that Americans, on average, put in 122 more hours in a year than the British and 378 hours more a year than the Germans. We’re back to working longer hours, sickened not from factory pollution but from being chained to our desks from 8-5, and tethered to our phones and laptops while we’re “off the clock.” Never mind if we’re getting results–we are present and accounted for.
Yes, it is easier to channel our fear and frustration into the cell phone, rather than a hugely broken system.
Turning the gadgets off simply isn’t enough. Another cultural revolution is in order and the people have to demand change. In fact, it’s not just the little guy, the modern day factory worker, that is demanding change this time. Executives are sick of the game too. People like Anne Marie Slaughter are fighting back against the traditional work environment and the increasing demands on our time and physical presence at the office.
The battle cry for our generation’s work revolution isn’t “Put down your gadgets!”
Rather, we say: “Focus on what matters!"