I have resisted getting a smartphone for a long time. I know that I’m in the minority of my generation, but I’ve always considered time away from my computer to be a welcome respite from the demands of my nagging, overloaded e-mail inbox(es). My doesn’t-do-anything-but-call-and-text cell phone has served me very well for a number of years.
Enter: the BlackBerry. (I’d take a picture of it for you, but the camera is inside the device. Not sure how that would work. It looks a lot like this one.) My employer recently gave me a company-issued BlackBerry so that I could monitor and respond to urgent communication and PR situations. Unfortunately our director of corporate communications is out on medical leave for a while, so I recognize the business need for a backup emergency contact, but that doesn’t make me any happier about my new toy.
I’ve had good reason to resist jumping on the smartphone bandwagon. In her study on technology, sociology professor Noelle Chesley found that frequent computer, Internet and cell phone use leads to feelings of increased work load and an accelerated pace of life. As the wise man Ferris Bueller taught us, life moved pretty fast way back in 1986, before we were all weighed down with mobile devices. Why would I want to make my life move even faster still?
Technology consultant Dr. Sam Ladner discovered through her study of interactive agency workers that devices like BlackBerries have created a “new norm of continuous availability” and the “expectation of hyper-responsivity to work. . . . Mobile technologies complicate the ability of workers to act as autonomous selves in their private lives.” (Cue the Carrie Bradshaw voiceover) I couldn’t help but wonder: Between work, school, and personal obligations, wasn’t my life complicated enough without technology invading every single moment of my private existence?
A friend of mine once referred to her BlackBerry as a wireless dog leash. Sometimes the flashing red light on the front of my BlackBerry, which indicates that I have a new message in my inbox, feels like something tugging on my neck, pulling me away from whatever else I’m engaged in.
- 70 percent of all e-mails are answered with 6 seconds
- 81 percent of people have their e-mail open at all times during the workday
- 55 percent of people open new messages immediately, regardless of what they are working on
- People lose as much as 20 percent of their workday dealing with distractions like incoming e-mail
I practice a number of these unproductive habits too (being an overachiever by nature, my tendency is to want to respond to e-mail as quickly as possible), but I certainly can’t afford to lose one-fifth of my worktime to disruptive technology distractions. Here are some helpful tips (some of which are adapted from the work of Pervin Shaikh) for not letting your mobile device run your life:
- Carve out a set amount of time for checking and responding to e-mail. Be sure to distinguish what’s urgent from what’s important.
- Resist the urge to respond to e-mails immediately on your personal time unless there is a real emergency.
- Don’t check your e-mail right before you go to sleep, especially on the weekend. This could interfere with your ability to achieve restful sleep.
- Take some time each day away from your mobile device, whether that means turning it off for a little while or leaving it in the other room while you spend time with family and friends.
- And seriously, take a break from texting and e-mail while driving! It’s common sense, but it might just save a life. And that’s way more important than anything you might find in your inbox.
Smartphone users: How do you balance the expectation of an immediate response with your need for time away from technology?
(Special thanks to Dr. Kris Markman of the University of Memphis communications department for introducing me to the three studies referenced above.)