I have come to realise that many of the supposed mechanisms of productivity and connection provided to me through technology are, in fact, the opposite.
I fear that the suites of tools and features that allow me to work from anywhere do, in fact, distract me everywhere.
I feel that at time i have lost the art of long form and collapsed into the conversational and reactive.
This is an odd thing: somewhere around 1997 i signed up for my first email address, and considered it a wonderful thing. I could remain connected at a distance, despite my terrible handwriting. I could cycle up to the University campus and log on every few days, in the hope that someone had reached out.
Today, i carry my email like an albatross, but one that refuses to die. Flapping forlornly around my neck, resisting my every attempt to throttle it with desultory squawks and pecks, but joined today by a host of red spotted brethren.
Of course i have adopted the new: Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, Messenger, and a host of others, but my adoption has often been cumulative, not adaptive, and i’ve rarely managed to put the last to bed before waking up the replacement.
Communication has become like the laundry basket: ever present, slowly filling, often a chore.
But highly addictive: i am not beset by unwanted chatter, but rather the opposite. Conversations in depth and of interest. Indeed, i can convince myself that these conversations ARE the work. I can rationalise almost any level of distraction as ‘community building’ and ‘engagement’, and to some extent i am right.
What it leaves me lacking is the metacognitive: the space (both headspace and temporal) to think. Without being distracted by another layer of icing or wedge of cake. I do no lack information so much as the space to find wisdom.
All this has led me back around to the work of ‘place’. The place that i work. Something that will form one of my key research and writing strands this year.
What is work – where do we do it – how do we do it – why do we do it – and what is it’s relationship with technology – with space – with people?
Does technology always make us more productive – or can technology hold us apart? Do we need to be together to forge culture, and to find meaning, or can being together make us more busy than wise?
What can we put down, what should we carry forward, and do we have the ability to think this through and act it out?
I suspect my personal (and perhaps our organisational) challenge is one of separation: to separate out my segregated spaces – to separate my thinking and doing, my learning and acting, my reflection and practice.
There is a real cost to connection: in energy and thought. We need it, but not necessarily too much of it. And if technology is too magnetic, we can fall into a gilded trap.