Is adulthood, or more accurately, that period bookended by childbearing and caring for elderly parents a “stage”? I suppose so, if you define “stage” as a passage of time, marked by a beginning and an end. When you’re in the trenches of a stage, deep in the muck of it with both feet stuck and sinking fast, it’s hard not to bristle when your current experience is so quickly and easily dismissed with such a short, curt little word.
But look past that, says Timson. Because it’s not what stage you’re at that matters, it’s what you’re doing while you’re there: whether you choose “work-life balance”, “separation of life and work” or some other meaningless cliché, it amounts to the same thing: we’re collectively not so hot at separating out our work lives from the rest of our lives, and we’re suffering for it. And for that, we can blame technology. We need to get out of our collective heads, she says – go read a book, paddle a canoe, walk in the park. Do anything but remain tethered to email, your Blackberry and the internet. Your life will be better, you’ll find more of that “balance” if you do.
Is she wrong?
Or is the question better phrased as, “Do you need to be checking your email at dinner time?”
I read Timson’s message as asking us to take some of our own time back. I acknowledge that this is a naïve request, because there’s really not enough time in most people’s lives to go around. We’d all agree that it would be lovely if we could all get away from the office (or store, or ER, or taxi cab, or where ever we’re employed) to go watch our child’s soccer game, using the goodwill we’ve earned from a past hard work as our hall-pass. Every employer should have its employees’ best interests at heart, profits and shareholder returns be damned (and with that, goes my bonus…)
But life doesn’t work like that. The Globe and Mail once ran an interview with journalist Laura Vanderkam, who argued that most of us fritter away our weeks on meaningless, time-sucking activities with little benefit; with a little organization, we should be able to have it “all”, whatever that is, and poor pathetic you if you can’t manage it. And upon reading that, I said to myself, “Have you seen my calendar?”
But there is a point where we all have to ask ourselves whether we’re working for work, or working for show, and to whose benefit is all this time in front of a glowing screen? And when we’re not working, how many of us fritter away family time on facebook? How many of us turn on our Blackberries shortly after waking in the morning? How many people send emails late at night, at home, not because the content of the message is so important, but because it’s important to be seen to be working, nose to the grindstone, 24-7? Is Farmville really a leisure activity? Wouldn’t it be better for all of us collectively if we all spent more time working in an actual garden?
In my own life, I realized that we collectively all spend too much time in front of an electronic device when my five year-old moaned that he “didn’t have a screen to look at”. It’s at this point that Timson’s message actually made some sense to me, no matter how thinly her point was made: call it what you will – a stage, a blip – it’s precious time, and we need to take a breath and decide whether we’re in control of the way we use it.
I enjoyed reading your piece. I must admit that I am a big fan of spending as little time as possible in front of a screen. It used to be that the only time I sat in front of a computer was for work purposes, but these days I find it harder to limit it to that. With interesting blogs like yours and others, my screen time is increasing. For example, right now, I am in bed and in front of a laptop, while my son is sitting beside me. I struggle with whether I should be closing the laptop and reading a book, modeling for him and at the same time enjoying the old fashioned joy of reading in bed as opposed to being in front of a screen. The challenge is when and how to fit it all in!