Katie has been into her new job for about six weeks now. As content and marketing manager for cooktasteeat.com, a culinary media startup, one of her responsibilities is to handle its Facebook and Twitter pages. As much as she loves her job, one recent Monday morning, she was stressed out. It was more than the usual Monday morning blues many of us have after a full weekend of festivities and relaxation. She was feeling pressured because she “hadn’t done enough work over the weekend.”
I told her this was nonsense. Her job could be all-consuming, 24/7 if she let it, but as I pointed out, 1) she wasn’t high up enough or paid enough to let it take over her life and 2) she would burn out and flame out and then what good would she be to anyone — her employer, us, and herself included?
Technology and social media can be wonderful. During Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath, Facebook and Twitter connected me to the outside world via my iPhone. We lost power and we didn’t have lights, heat, Internet, or home phone, but I sure had my social media connection and it was my lifeline. I texted people across the country to let them know we were safe; I posted on Facebook that night as we braced for the worst of Sandy’s wrath:
“Playing Monopoly by candlelight, storm soup on the stove still warm. Wind howling, dogs pacing, big pine tree in backyard bending at unnatural angle. But we are warm and safe and dry and expect/hope to remain so. Thinking about both sets of our parents riding out the storm on their own and everyone else out there in Sandy’s sights. Be safe!” That’s how my nephews in Singapore were reassured that all was okay in our part of New Jersey. I received “likes” from all over the world.
But as Katie has discovered, technology and social media can be all consuming. Not doing what is perceived to be “enough” can result in discomfort and guilt.
I started doing some work earlier this year for a Korean-American tech firm that reaches into all parts of the world and all different time zones. The president of the company travels constantly, especially to Asia, where they are literally at the opposite end of the clock. When it is three in the afternoon here, it is three in the middle of the night in Beijing, and just about the same in Seoul. My job does not fit into a regular 9 to 5 day, but then, in today’s global workplace, whose does? There can be no expectations in that regard; the template is broken.
Indeed, in today’s hypercompetitive, hyper-technologized, hyper-profit-oriented business climate, anyone could feel compelled to work around the clock and still never be done. It is a distressing thought.
In the days after Hurricane Sandy, Bill’s offices officially were closed, and yet, the parking lots had cars with people who had come in to use the space. Yes, some came in from homes that were yet without power to warm up and charge up, but most of them, like Bill, felt compelled to keep the work wheels grinding along because unless you were in the northeastern part of the United States, the hurricane did not mean very much. It was business as usual for most of the rest of the world even as we struggled to catch our collective breath and move back to normal.
There was another wonderful component to taking a forced breather from technology. Yes, it was highly inconvenient to cook by candlelight and use flashlights to move safely around the house. It was annoying to have to triage the food in the fridge to figure out what to eat first, what could be cooked later, and what would have to be tossed. Actually, looking on the bright side of things, it did provide a good, relatively guilt-free opportunity to clean out all the mystery items in the freezer.
But the found treasure was the time we got to spend as a family doing things that we had not done together in such a very long time. Will hunted down the Monopoly board and we set up shop on the kitchen table. As banker, it was a challenge to read the denominations by candlelight, but it was fun to collect properties with cutthroat intent.
Will then challenged his dad to a game of chess — something he used to play all the time — and then chortled when he won. After that it was on to a rousing game of marbles — a family version reminiscent of “Trouble” played on a homemade board given to us by a friend years ago.
We put tealights in the fireplace and listened to the news on our battery-powered radio before going to bed early in the cold, but warm and cozy underneath down blankets.
Yes, it was wonderful taking a break from technology and a very good reminder to disconnect on a regular basis to maintain a healthy perspective on life and family time. We shouldn’t feel compelled to wait for another natural disaster to unplug, even for a little while.