There is a thing I call the Great Internet Blur: it is the way, in the wired world in which we carve out an existence these days, the line between work and non-work gets about as blurry as the vision of a fog bound drunk suffering from glaucoma.
This is always something of an issue for the freelancer, or in fact, anyone who is self employed and also works from home.
Preserving that dividing line between work and non-work has always been a bit difficult: a freelancer I know used to, at the end of her working day, go for a walk of anything from half an hour to an hour.
That was her commute, she reckoned: leaving her home office and walking around for a bit so that when she got back home she was “back from the office” and she didn’t venture back into her home office again.
The advent of smartphones and similar devices, such as the almighty iPad, has made this line rather more blurry, and not just for freelancers.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m quite attached to my iPhone. And my iPad. They in fact make up for one of my great personal weaknesses, which is a certain tendency to get so wrapped up in what I’m doing that some of the more basic practicalities can get lost.
One example: I lost count of the number of times, back when I was an employee, I would be on the way to an appointment and thinking intensely about the upcoming interview. I’d have to phone back to the office (from a phone box, in those days) and say to whoever was there “Can you be a real help, lean over to my desk, have a look at my diary – and tell me where I’m supposed to be?”).
Back in my school days, this kind of thing was even worse: in 4th Form my maths teacher, who was a magnificent teacher and who I learned a lot from (although I didn’t realise quite how much until some years later) staged a sort of intervention. Hauled my long-suffering folks down to school for an emergency pow-wow with the other teachers.
The upshot was of this summit was I had to carry around a notebook with me, reminding me where I had to be and what homework I had to do, etc, etc. And to make sure I didn’t lose the notebook, it had to be tied to my belt.
It helped. A bit. Though crikey, I got hassled about it by my mates.
So in that sense, the iPhone is something of a boon. Now the calendar and Task functions can all be synced when they are entered, it is great: I can put in reminders about everything from where I am supposed to be, to when to return library books/CDs/DVDs without being hit with fines; regular jobs can be entered with a repeat function and, what is more, moved around if need be.
And if I do it on the desktop computer they come up, automatically, on the iPhone.
This is incredibly useful.
Oh, and the Financial Times,
though they don’t have a proper app for that and its a newspaper. But still.
And the sheer genius of Steve Jobs was coming up with an electronic device you stroke, like a cat, to make it work. I’m sure its one reason people fall in love with these little doodackys.
The problem is the Blur.
Reading all this stuff on the iPad there’s a tendency to be simultaneously checking all manner of other things, work-related or otherwise, and the line gets very fuzzy between when you are in work mode or not, not to mention the line between different work tasks. Multitasking can easily become the norm.
Add to that is the unfortunate feeling of being on a leash. I know a lot of people feel if they are not online, or within reach of their smart phone, they get an anxious feeling of not being connected.
While I certainly get that at certain times, I’m normally more prone to the opposite: a ghastly sensation of having someone always about to finger the collar.
Social media complicates matters further. Facebook and Twitter is (for me, anyway, and I suspect for many others) part work, part social activity.
There is also the feeling, with the Internet Blur, of stuff constantly coming at you. It’s jarring – again, having a blurring effect. The jarring, the fuzzy boundaries, leaders to a massive lack of focus if you’re not careful.
I picked up a book over the summer break which suggests having a “Digital Sabbath” – one day a week where you’re not connected.
And it seems like a good idea. For family matters, the iPhone often needs be carried but the great thing is the way you can set it the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function so only family related calls can reach you.
Magazines on the iPad can be read, but it can be switched into Airplane mode so there’s no emails and so forth popping up to distract.
Six days shalt thou twitter, but the seventh thou shall keep whole-ey.