Tonight is the beginning of a new year. No you didn’t go to sleep and wake up mid-winter; it’s still late summer in this northern hemisphere, at least for another week. It’s the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. It’s a celebration, but it’s also the start of the 10 days of awe which are a time for personal reflection and contemplation; and observed by festive meals (of course) and prayers in synagogue. The synagogue services are long and no electronic devices are allowed. Yes, that means mobile phones are turned off – which can be a holiday in itself!
On Call while Offline: Decompressing in the Age of the Smartphone
It wasn’t too long ago that the tech revolution made multitasking a skill to strive for. Today, we know of the hazards of multitasking – principally, if you’re using one brain to do two things, you’re going to do both things only half as well! While the working world may have caught up on this new development within the office environment, smartphones and 24/7 access to email make it harder to get the message across during off hours. And, it turns out, if you’re multitasking while also trying to relax, you’re going to relax only half as well – which can have a detrimental impact on your mental and physical health.
Craig Dowden goes into detail about this problem with “on call” culture in an article for Psychology Today. He cites a study of shift workers (folks whose working lives are literally spent on call), which showed that they had poorer sleep patterns, more physical health problems due to depressed immune systems, less responsive memory and learning patterns, and longer recovery time after illnesses. The unpredictability of being called into work was determined to be a major factor for each of these health challenges.
Dowden then extrapolates the results to today’s office workers, who experience a similar sensation of being “on call” while technically off work, primarily via our smartphones. And our failing is the culture of silence around this development:
“The sense of being ‘on-call’ is further reinforced by the lack of conversation about how we manage our smartphones. When I ask clients about the expectations of smartphone use after hours, my question is usually met with some discomfort. Most people tell me there has never been a formal discussion about it. People are reluctant to address it with their superiors for fear the subject will not be well-received or that they will be perceived as not being fully committed to their work.”
I agree with Dowden that the centre cannot hold. Sustained partial attention has certainly had an impact on me, and I can’t even imagine the difficulties of workers who aren’t self-employed, and feel like they can’t make their feelings known to their bosses. It’s time to fight back against the pernicious smartphone, and strike a blow for true productivity – and true downtime!