The Stress of Work Technology
Isn't work technology supposed to set us free? Isn't it meant to speed our work, help us make fewer mistakes, enhance our lives and increase our free time? I know I'm not alone when I ask what's happened to the dream? In my lifetime we've moved from a state where work was work, and free time started when work finished. It made things very simple and the lines were clear for all to see. Today, we're having expert seminars on the importance of work-life balance. That's right, we're now being taught that free time is important for those little incidentals like family life, socializing, relaxing, community and that face-to-face thing called talking.
There's little doubt we're in love with technology. These days I regard access to mobile devices and the internet almost as a basic need. There are now people on the planet who've never written a letter or a memo, except by email. But the days when memo's slowly stacked up on the desk and you took a fortnight to answer them have gone. Now, work travels around with us. The day off is becoming an increasingly weird concept and worst of all, away from the devices, the texts and emails, some people get really anxious. It's a curious thing. Technology often provides the illusion of freedom that allows us to do things when we want. In reality our quality of life is gradually eroding because of the technology we love.
What do we have in the way of measuring quality of life? Actually there are lots of ways, but I'm turning to the State of Butan for this measure, simply because I love it. How many other countries can you think of that use a measure of "gross national happiness" in order to measure the wellbeing of the nation? Brilliant! Effectively it averages out seven ‘wellbeing metrics' that include physical, mental, work, social, economic, political and environmental aspects of wellbeing. Bhutan in fact ranked eighth out of 178 countries in subjective wellbeing and is the only country in the top 20 "happiest" countries that has a very low GDP. In case you're wondering, the top five countries are, Norway, Australia, the Netherlands, Australia and the United States.
Perhaps you're a little surprised by those statistics? Why? Well one reason might be that psychologists say we're probably much more resentful and unhappy than ever before, despite the affluence many of us enjoy. The build up of daily resentments, sarcasm, cynicism and stress are a toxic mix. Some say we're increasingly less open, less approachable, more anxious and more hostile. A possible consequence is that it becomes easier to gain sometimes hundreds of "friends" on social networking sites. We can wear our hearts on our sleeve as easy as we can toss people to one side in this anonymous world.
Does technology fuel our interests and needs or does it simply meet them? Online messaging, tweets and texts create the illusion of community, but face-to-face community takes a bit of effort and is ultimately a more enriching and rewarding experience. Jim Taylor, Ph.D wonders whether technology is beginning to steal our self-identities? He makes the case that most social forces in previous generations were largely positive: parents, peers, schools, communities and even the media. Professor Taylor says, ‘today, popular culture manufactures "portraits" of who it wants us to be. The problem is that the self-identity that is served by popular culture serves its own best interests rather than what is best for us.' It follows that people heavily involved in social media start to see their identity in terms of what they would like it to be and what they feel others want to see. The development of our own personality takes second place as we conform to the requirements of a digital world.
I know technology for some people is life enhancing and sometimes even life critical. For others, does their use of technology help to diffuse responsibility, lower expectations, reduce effort and ultimately make them unhappy and more bitter? It's a big debate and no doubt people have strong views about the role and nature of technology in people's lives. I'd certainly like to hear yours.
Taylor, J (2011) Is Technology Stealing Our (Self) Identities? Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/print/70307