Me versus Machine

It’s Sunday night. Yesterday morning I did a few hours of work to tie up loose ends left over from the week. Tonight, I will complete my usual routine: kids to bed, pjs on, watch some TV and check my email.

Not my personal email: my work email. Because I really should be abreast of what my colleagues have sent out since Saturday morning. And because this way I can be on top of things from the go Monday. Of course, I won’t get a bit more time at home in the morning or be able to reduce my break-neck pace. I’ll just be able to get more done before the actual work starts tomorrow. Thank goodness for modern technology.

Aren’t we lucky? Now my workplace has moved our email, we can access our inbox and add to our sent any time, any day. Weekends, holidays, evenings, whenever. Fantastic.

Technology has become the weapon with which work invades and conquers our lives.

I’ve lost count of the number of additional five minute tasks which have been piled onto us over the last few years – enough to have lost an hour or two a week. And most of them are related to making technology work for us – or us work for technology. Unfortunately, I don’t feel liberated by our digital era; in fact, I have recently realised how enslaved we are by it.

An extra column of data entry, an extra two or four. 150 words of additional prose – first copied and pasted, but, after time, ensure the content is original. Social media interaction. Monitoring and response to emails. ‘Voluntary’ days of work during holidays, or virtual contact. PowerPointing everything. On-line surveys. And the list goes on.

Then there is the time it takes to log-in; switch PCs, laptops, printers on and off and on again; call for support when they don’t work; change your password – again. I wonder how many hours of my life I have wasted watching and waiting for bars to progress, information to stream or buffer or download. We are scarily dependant on the mercy of our mechanised world. And as such we wait – our own progress suspended until our electronic frenemies decide they’re ready to wake up and help us.

They’re all tiny jobs, and half of them only exist because we’ve been bamboozled into believing in the benefits of machine over man.

Then I think about home. Technology means we have TV, mobile phones, cars… the things that put distance between us and those we care about. Not that we realise. We are so conditioned to our modern world, we don’t see how our addiction to technology is as toxic as any drug. Weakening, cheapening, isolating us.

We live further from our families because we have cars and transport links. We speak less to our friends because we send them a picture or a text or a tweet. We spend less time with people we care about and more working… thanks to the convenient 24/7 access to the office which technology gives us.

While I can see the benefits of Skype, WhatsApp, modern medicine, efficient transportation, electricity(!) – I wonder how many times in an average day we reach for the not-so-helpful hand of technology to complete a task we’re perfectly capable of doing without it – if we could be bothered to use our brains, our feet or our effort, that is. And how often would our day be improved by not turning to technology to get a job done.

Imagine the shock of speaking to a colleague, rather than sending an email. The crazy concept of writing notes… with a pen. Or consider a world where we don’t fill in repetitious forms, spreadsheets and documents just because it is convenient for someone else if we do so. Even now, I write this on my laptop; my phone is next to me. I checked social media as I woke up, and I’m texting as I type. I have to do all of this because I wouldn’t keep up with the pace of my world if I didn’t.

But why do we need to move so fast? Who does it actually serve to rush through life, never stopping to relax, think or appreciate the most precious of things? And without the rush, would we even need the tyranny of technology in our lives? It would seem that we have been mis-sold a dream of convenience and ease; now, like addicts, we can’t stop. And it just gets worse. We use technology because the world does and we think we have no choice but to conform or be left behind. It’s like the nuclear deterrent no-one wants but everyone is forced to have.

It is about time we questioned how much we really need the devices that rule our lives and remembered that we are the users, not the used.