Recently, I spent time immersed in the RIM BlackBerry culture -- testing and writing about the wireless e-mail device. I also read Gil Gordon's new book, Turn It Off: How To Unplug From The Anytime-Anywhere Office Without Disconnecting Your Career at the same time. Although I didn't plan it, the dual exercise helped me gain insight into the often stormy relationship between work and technology.
The premise of Turn it off is that we work too hard because we fear losing our jobs through downsizing. Notebooks, cell phones and the BlackBerry let us work nonstop to shore up performance to use against getting canned. While the book doesn't claim everyone toting a handheld device requires an intervention, a fine series of self-tests will reveal whether you have a problem. If you do, it'll show you how to take back some of that eroded personal time.
While some might be tempted to blame technology for the 24-7 nature of our work lives, it's not the messenger or the message you need to control, but the sender. Turning off or abandoning a device won't lessen the demands on your time. Let colleagues and clients send you all the messages they like. Whether you're free to ignore them on the off-hours is the issue.
BlackBerry devotees I spoke with equate 24-7 connectivity with more control and more freedom. They better utilize their time by reading e-mail while stuck in dead zones (such as in a cab), which frees up in-office time for more important tasks. And for remote workers, the ability to monitor corporate e-mail messages from anywhere decreases anxiety by diminishing the fear of the unknown.
I'm not convinced the idea applies to mobile phones, though. When the phone rings, I jump to answer it like a dog responding to a whistle. On the other hand, e-mail monitoring is passive and secret, and something you control entirely - that is, if you can fight the urge to hit "reply," and have your own turn-it-off strategies.
Speaking of books, I'd like to plug Reading Room, the new section we've added to the Net.Worker Web site. Turn It Off is one of a slew of books on remote work, small business and related technologies you'll find listed. Over time, we'll read them all and post reviews. Visit often to find which books best address issues and problems faced by Net.Worker readers.
This story, "Say yes to technology, no to people" was originally published by Network World.