12 Jul 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.
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.
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…
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