My office is wherever i’m sat these days. On the train, at home, in a building called ‘work’, on site with clients, occasionally on a plane or (as regular readers know) in many coffee shops. Both geographical and temporal boundaries have evaporated as technology leaves me wirelessly tethered to the virtual world at any time, in any place.
There is rarely any such thing as a ‘working day’ anymore: more a kind of amorphous block of checking emails, responding to calls, eating lunch and speaking to people. Sometimes this falls between 9AM and 5PM, sometimes even those times in my own country, but often we are working across split time zones and often the boundaries between work and play break down.
Welcome to the realities of the 21st century. Or maybe join me as i examine my inability to partition time effectively. One way or the other, it’s a brave new world we live in, even if our personal habits haven’t caught up yet.
The world used to be divided into formal spaces at work and informal spaces outside of it. This was neat and tidy. Today, all the spaces are grey, or, if you’re an optimist like me, they’re a rosy shade of orange. Technology has broken down the barriers, enabling me to pretty much do anything, anywhere. Our social habits are lagging a bit far behind.
Now don’t get me wrong, i am not totally lost in the networked abyss, i do turn off my virtual existence now and then, but certainly not every evening and certainly not every holiday. Such as today, for example, where i am ‘on holiday’, but strangely not on holiday.
Terms such as ‘mobile learning’ and ‘just in time’ learning, or even ‘social learning’ are often just a phrase that means ‘learning on your own time’. Whilst dressed up in the aspirational language of social interaction and virtual working environment, these technologies and approaches all rely on the investment of time, which, often as not, comes out of your own portion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: virtual working environments and learning experiences can be incredibly stimulating and enjoyable, but they are rarely easily partitioned within the working day.
Are we wrong to ask people to engage in these activities? Whilst ‘notification’ and ‘push’ emails attempt to pull us ever further into this game, maybe we should be using the equivalent of the ‘do not disturb’ sign to bounce them away again? Or maybe we should just be enjoying our new found freedom to explore and divide our time in a far more flexible manner.
It’s hard to know if the technology is just enabling us all to be workaholics, or if it’s liberating us to work and play in hitherto unimagined ways. In either case, we face challenges if we are to preserve any semblance of distinction between personal and formal spaces. If we even want to.