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Lamenting the loss of leisure

Last week’s column spurred enough e-mail to suggest that I was largely misunderstood when I “declared independence from technology (sort of).”

As one reader stated, “the idea of getting independence from technology is as impossible.” (He also suggested it was “illegal and non-ethical,” but I’m chalking that up to hyperbolic use of a metaphor.)

I’m not suggesting we can be rid of technology. That genie just won’t go back in the bottle – and we wouldn’t want it to. Still, there is something very different about the so-called information age than any previous economic and cultural sea change.

While history marvels at the new efficiency of the industrial age, the greatest by-product of marvelous machines wasn’t productivity or even economic growth, it was time. Relieved of long and hard labor, people discovered leisure. And leisure itself became an economic driver, as people engaged in a host of new activities in their now “free” time.

Ironically, the information age seems to rob us of our leisure. Through wonderful technologies, we can receive information (almost) anywhere at any time. And so we do.
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We carry information receivers – mobile phones, BlackBerries, and the like – everywhere. We select vacation hotels based on availability of Wi-Fi, or at the very least an Internet kiosk.

We check e-mail incessantly. A survey by America Online published in yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News found that 26% of Americans say they can’t go more than two or three days without checking e-mail. The survey also discovered that people are checking e-mail in bed (23%), in meetings (8%), in the bathroom (4%) and even in church (1%).

Technology – or more precisely, our obsession with it – is stripping us of our most valuable asset: time. Sure, information technologies have delivered tremendous efficiencies to business process. Information technologies have and are driving tremendous economic growth. I am not for one minute deriding these advances.

Rather, I’m lamenting the loss of leisure. Or, perhaps it is the misalignment of priorities that is stealing our time.

Consider:

How often have you been late for an occasion with family or friends because you “just wanted to check e-mail” before you left?

Do you regularly get short-changed on sleep because you’ve lost track of time just finishing up a little work before bedtime?

How much have you passed by for the benefit of getting more work done?

It’s not the technology, it’s how we use it – 24/7 – that is the problem. And far from being a Luddite who wants independence from technology, I’m just a bit overworked and wantto enjoy a bit more of the summer.

Now, if I can just get through my in-box...

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at chris@demo.com. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.

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Comments

Tony DiRomualdo responded 8 years ago: #1

Chris,

You make an excellent point about technology robbing us of leisure time. I could not agree more. And by the way, there is much research to support this. For example, a number of studies I've seen regarding the effects of technology-enabled flexible and mobile working show that many people use the time they gain from not having to commute to guess what? Work more!

America seems to be a work and activity-obsessed culture (and regretably I must be counted among this group). I applaud your courage for taking a stand against work and anytime/anywhere connection and for more leisure. But as you wryly suggest at the end of your article, it is up to us as individuals to break ourselves of the work/technology addiction. Good luck!

Ted Yudelson responded 7 years ago: #2

Wow, I feel like I'm reading my own words. In the last couple of years, I've been working on a mixed-media art series that addresses this very theme. The series is called Broken Promises and speaks to the Big Lie that computer technology was to allow us to do more work in less time, thus leaving more time for leisure.

The series begs the question - is computer technology getting the better of us? Perhaps it's time to rethink how and when we use these machines. Who's really in charge here???

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