Technology is throwing our work-life balance out of whack

Many years ago I remember reading that by the year 2000 we would be persons of leisure thanks to the wonders of technology. Our work days would be shorter, our weeks devoid of tedious tasks, with computers handling the donkey work.p>Dream on. According to a survey of 1,000 U.S. workers conducted for Day-Timers, technology makes working harder, not easier. In 1994 people completed about three-quarters of their work each day; now on average they only manage two-thirds of it.

The survey says that we now spend 16 hours a week on the computer, compared to nine-and-a-half hours, 10 years ago.

So what happened to all that leisure?

And what happened to our feelings of accomplishment? The survey says that only 28 per cent of respondents called themselves very or extremely successful, compared to 40 per cent in 1994, and those who feel extremely or very productive fell from 83 per cent to 51 per cent.

It seems that our mad multitasking is getting the better of us. We peck away at tasks, never completing one thing before we have to take on another. It’s hard to feel like a success if we have to start several new things before managing to finish anything. We feel like characters in Alice Through the Looking Glass, running as fast as we can to stay in the same place.

It doesn’t help that instead of getting shorter, our work weeks have expanded to virtually perpetual thanks to our much-loved but intrusive electronic shackles: Cellphones, BlackBerry devices and laptops. Even if we are more productive overall, the ever-increasing expectations mean it’s never enough.

I’ve received e-mails in the middle of the night from people who only have time to do their correspondence at midnight. One father of two young children leaves work “early” — 6 p.m. — and puts in another few hours after his offspring have been bedded down. Another, who spends a lot of time on the road, finally got a webcam for his laptop so he could see his young daughter while she was awake, and she would know what Daddy looks like.

This is a life of leisure?

It’s interesting to see that the more technology we drag into our working day, the more we end up doing. Baby boomers remember parents — well, actually, fathers — who worked 9 to 5 and were home every night to supper prepared by a stay-at-home mom. The boomers themselves graduated to two- income households, and watched as their nine-to-five days expand as technology makes it easier and easier to work from anywhere. There were many nights, earlier in my career, when I fell asleep on the keyboard, dialed into the office working on a project.

Now with the Internet, high-speed and ubiquitous connectivity we are perpetually on duty, and discussions of work-life balance tend to descend to the theoretical.

Talk of that life of leisure has long since ceased (probably only boomers even remember it), to be replaced by plans for even more connectivity, which will somehow improve our lives. We’ll see what the next survey says about that.

Lynn Greiner is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
lynng@ca.inter.net

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