Invasion of the Social Boundaries Snatchers

Is your phone setting you up for a romantic dinner at work?

You will find out soon. Let me set the scene for you.

If you have ever used a film camera, you probably remember the one hour photo service. Every photography store had one, and numerous chains were devoted to that service. You stopped by, filled in your information on the envelope, dropped in your roll of film, and returned an hour or so later to collect your processed film and prints. The proliferation of this service made it commonplace at grocery and convenience stores, and some chains even offered the service from a drive-thru booth. To get in front of the game, some locations began to offer a 30 minute service. WOW! Can you imagine waiting for 30 minutes to see how your photos turned out?..

Those days are gone. Many of the photography stores have disappeared, and those drive-thru booths now sell coffee for about the same amount you paid for a roll of film before. Technology had a lot to do with those changes. Nowadays you use your phone to take pictures, and you never gave up your coffee habit.

The information age that is today’s reality has changed our lives in ways that we are still trying to adjust to. Habits and technologies that we all take for granted today were the subject of science fiction only a few decades ago. Example: You brought this article in front of you with a little slide of hand and a finger press, and much like most of what you will be reading today, it is on a computer screen.

Technology has allowed for many devices to be consolidated and be made smaller.

It starts with what’s in your pocket.

Your cell phone is a very capable device. It may even out-perform your laptop computer. Your cell phone has a fast CPU, can be connected to the internet by a number of ways, has a superb screen resolution, and can operate without a charge for many hours. It has a camera, apps for any occasion, and it’s your most personal device. You carry it with you all the time, even if you are not carrying anything else, and if you happen to not answer it occasionally, people may think you are dead.

Most web traffic today is handled on mobile devices. You might be reading this article on your phone instead of on a computer screen. As you hold it, your mobile device is constantly delivering information from all over. So as you are looking at one thing on it, you are made aware of other events happening in your network. New emails arrive, text messages, news alerts, social media updates. This endless stream continues twenty-four hours a day, every day. Is seems as if the entire world is within reach. You can buy almost anything using your thumb or index fingers, and any question that pops into your head can be instantly researched and answered from right where you are. You are a better informed individual today than at any time in history.

This is really great, but what is the cost of it?

IT – your phone, your tablet, your computer, or anything else connected to IT, are now an integral part of your life. IT is smart. IT is fast. IT can help you do everything you need (and also many things you really don’t.) You carry IT in your pocket, or in your purse. You wear IT, you hold IT, and wherever you are, you constantly check IT for messages, updates, news, and general signs of life. You use IT frequently to take pictures, check in, report, stay tuned, get involved. You never leave home without IT, and if you happen to lose access to IT for some reason, you exhibit behavior that closely resembles that of a junkie going thought drug withdrawal. IT supports your daily activities, and in many ways dictates them. The information age is tightly connected to your fingertips.

IT is intertwined with your every move. From your wake up time to your bed time (and you know how you really spend ‘bed time’ before you actually go to sleep.) IT helps you stay productive throughout the day, and allows you to keep working even if you never left your bed in the first place. You can’t imagine life without IT, and if you did, you would need a paper bag to breathe into. IT packs great technology that improves your life in many ways. IT enables you to be more productive, better informed, more everything.

Is there anything wrong with this reality?

THIS is what could be wrong. That last being more everything part.

Every time you check for one piece of information on IT, you can’t avoid noticing the other notes that make your life so great. They are already there, and it only takes a second to check each one. Ask yourself: what is driving what? Are you using IT to manage your life, or is IT controlling life for you?

If you admit to be completely addicted to your technology – welcome to the club, and thank you for your honesty. If you replied that you are in control of IT – good answer. This is what a person in denial would say. The wonderful reality is that IT is so integrated into your life, you cannot escape it. Not that there is anything wrong with it. But even too much of a good thing may be a problem. With virtually your entire life – professional and personal – wrapped into IT, the device that is there to support you in your functions is instead controlling you. You become an electronic puppet, a frantic human being driven mad by short strings of characters.

This article does not mean to advocate for turning back the clock and return to the days of pencil and paper. The fact is many aspects of our behavior in the modern world have been reformed by the riches of this and other technologies. To illustrate this point, here are some examples:

  • You use your phone for voice calls only a portion of the time. The rest of the time you use it for email, messages, web surfing, and (of course) playing games.
  • Regardless of your profession, your work depends in large part on using a computer.
  • Many of these electronic platforms follow you as you move through your day, in your personal space, your professional space, and so on.
  • Even when you are away from work, you continue to deal with work stuff. You are always reachable.

Your perception of your life has changed by IT. Consider this:

  • Only a handful of your Facebook friends are actually your friends. The rest are people you may know, but would not describe as friends if pointedly asked.
  • You have never done any business with many of the people in your LinkedIn contacts list.
  • You follow and interact with people you don’t know and never met through Twitter. Some days these interactions exceed those you have with your family.

In this land of plentiful, it is hard to keep away from the perks, but at what cost?

Boundaries are created and maintained to keep from different environments to intrude on each other. You enter your work environment to function as a professional, and you go home to be a private person. You behavior at work is considerably different than your behavior at home. Attempting to behave in one environment in the way you behave in the other would be looked upon as odd, to say the least. You enter your work environment as a professional to earn a living, and you dwell in your home environment to relax, perform personal activities, and enjoy intimacy. The two environments are distinctly different from each other, and there is where the problem lays. When you carry IT with you from one environment to another, you create a physical and mental bridge between the two. Each environment is contaminated by the atmosphere of the other. Consider this: would you bring your kids to a meeting at work, or have a romantic dinner at the office? So why would you bring your work into your kids room or your dinner date?

This is not an all or nothing choice. Some people carry a heavy professional responsibility on their shoulders, and need to be accessible at any time of the day. But even they have to create a boundary for themselves. You do not have to feel as a marionette tattered on strings. You set boundaries in the other areas of your life. This should be no exception.

As with any other withdrawal experience, steps should be taken with care. A change here will have to be constructed from a number of small challenges. Results may take some time to hold, and you may need to be patient to realize any outcomes. Try and do as much as you can to complete each challenge, and reward yourself for your accomplishments. Start with one, and proceed to the next one only after you have accomplished the first. To give you some challenge ideas, here is a list of suggestions in no specific order. They apply to both your work and home environments. Some steps may need to be adjusted to better affect your life. Start today:

  • Concentrate on the task you are handling, and avoid multi-tasking. Studies have shown that multi-tasking demotes efficiency, and reduces quality of work. Complete each task before moving on to the next one.
  • Close the email program on your computer for a period of time, and concentrate on finishing the task you are working on. Set a timer to remind you to look at your email once an hour, and check it only then. (OK, fine, 30 minutes. But a shorter duration will defeat the purpose.)
  • Decide on a time in the day to visit your social network. It is best if you do it while away from work, and you may apply this visit as a reward for completing a goal you set for yourself (working out, a chore at home, etc.)
  • Put you phone away and concentrate on what you do. When someone is trying to contact you, they may leave you a message. Do not touch the phone until you have finished your task, or an amount of time you set for yourself had passed.
  • Change your phone greeting to include an invitation for callers to send you a text message instead of leaving a voice mail. Text messages take less time to retrieve and respond to.
  • Take a look at your virtual work environment (your computer screen, your mobile device apps), and identify elements that are creating a distraction for you. Such elements may be a link to a website you like to escape to, a game you play a little too much, etc. Remove them from that platform.
  • If you are having a hard time adjusting to your new rules, set yourself a reward system. For every task you complete without distractions, reward yourself with a small treat. Chose a reward that is not part of the destructive array you have identified before (i.e. do not set playing Solitaire as a reward if you identified it as a distraction.)
  • Be wise about where you do your work. If the environment you are working in is not conducive to a task you are working on, change your environment. Alternatively, clear your environment from the elements that destruct you from your task (noise, music, toys on your desk.)
  • Log and assess your usage of time throughout the day and the week. Take a look at the way you spend your day, and decide on ways to even-out stressful portions of it against slower times. Allow proper time for healthy meals and exercise.

Following these steps should help you to improve your quality of life. You will feel better, and draw better enjoyment from your professional life. If you find yourself frustrated with your progress, contact a life coach to help you with achieving these goals and others.

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