Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Live and unplugged, there's no real disconnect

Jules Quartly, writing for the (China Daily) in Beijing, opines:

Updated: 2010-08-25

It's received wisdom that social networking tools, multitasking and online distractions have led to a loss in productivity at work.

In response, some bosses limit instant messaging or use spyware to keep an eye on our screen lives, issuing threats of freedom to their cubicle captives if they stray from the task at hand.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, I have the opposite opinion. Work has spilled over into our private lives, and what used to be "me time" is now work time.

Whether it's at home or at the office, logging on is much the same experience, keeping up with correspondence and dealing with an avalanche of networking options. Online, there are no degrees of separation between work and leisure time. It's the same deal.

My brother, who is clearheaded when it comes to the work-home divide, has banned computers on the weekend. He and his wife hide their laptops beneath their marital bed and will metaphorically cheat on each other by going online when the other's not looking. She has a Blackberry and will guiltily meet her clients' needs when he's not around.

Anyone born after the 1980s will probably be twittering, "What the hell is he on about?" by now, so a history lesson is required.

BC (before computers) people did not spend all their time staring at screens. The world was not a virtual feed into their brains. Most communication was face-to-face, not interface.

In the "old days" parents used to fear the influence of television and worried their brood would become addicted to the screen, unable to deal with the real world. My mother called us "goggle boxes" if we wanted to watch the TV on weekdays, and we were limited to weekend programs. Nowadays, moms are concerned their kids will be "Google boxes" and are similarly worried about the effects of too much screen time.

But this is the reality. Most people do spend their working and leisure lives buried in one screen or another, whether it's the computer, TV or smart phone, or some merged version of the three. Thirty years ago, life was very different and it's obvious there has been a revolution in the way we think and act.

It's similar to the "Gutenberg Revolution", which refers to Johannes Gutenberg, his invention of the printing press in the 1440s and its incredible influence upon our lives - though technically the first printing press was introduced in China 400 years previously by Bi Sheng.

Computers are even more revolutionary. Our lives have transformed, and the proof is we can hardly imagine what life was like just 30 years ago.

Which leads us, serendipitously, to the Desiderata (Latin for "desired things"). The poem by the German-American writer Max Ehrman was written in 1927 but is a kind of New Age script that ends with the lines: "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

A blogger friend of mine has updated it for the 21st century and calls it The Digirata. It begins, "Go placidly amid the hot links and the distractions" and ends "With all its sham, matt-drudgery and broken keyboards, it is still a beautiful online world. Be cheerful. Use the smiley emoticon as much as possible. Strive to be a happy camper and unplug often."

With apologies to my blogging friend, I doubt his rewrite of the Desiderata will be a hit because being plugged in is the reality.

No comments: