We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
Marshall McLuhan, 1967
I have been thinking a lot about tools. How a tool that is created by a person and then adopted by a society, can change the way we live our lives. A tool can allow people to create things they would otherwise not be able to create.
The wheel. A screwdriver. Instagram. Google shared docs. Facebook. Just to name a few, tools.
I have been thinking about how this is good and incredible—and obviously has been happening since the dawn of mankind. But more about how tools can be dangerous— in how they transform an entire society. How, in a society where innovation is where the money is, we as consumers—as people—need to take greater responsibility in how we allow these tools to shape us.
Take the smart phone. Take how it has fundamentally changed the way we work. The smart phone murdered the 9 to 5. The smart phone killed the end of the day. There is never an end to a day now.
There was a book that came out recently, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, by Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychologist who studies the impact of technology use on society. Dr. Rosen suggests that Facebook can become an addictive behavior because notifications of friends liking your status or photos can trigger endorphins. And so when we see the red jewel of the notification alert, we get a small dose of good feelings- and for that we keep coming back for more. This and it also works to amplify behaviors of narcissism, obsessive tendencies and depression for people who already have a predilection towards such conditions.
Basically Facebook makes it easy to become obsessed with ourselves, obsessed with what other people are doing with and without us, and then get all depressed about it. And then on top of that, we get depressed that we’re still sitting on Facebook in the first place.
At least I do, that last part I mean. More and more I’m consciously viewing my time spent on Facebook as a bad habit. When I catch myself scrolling through the newsfeed I’m annoyed at myself—as if I just caught myself absentmindedly biting my nails.
But back to the smart phone and how this tool has made us maybe not as great of workers as we think. (Did I lose you? That sentence is actually the thesis point of this article, I promise.)
I’m not a scientist so I can say this with absolutely no credibility BUT I do have this hunch—Work emails, receiving them on your smart phone—hearing that little ping sound when a new email hits your inbox all day long, all night long, ping ping ping, triggers the exact same sort of feelings that Dr. Rosen pointed out for Facebook users. Narcissism, obsessive tendencies, depression and addictive behavior.
I think, sometimes, the dizzying pace of work emails. Receiving them, writing them, shooting them out one after the next and what work are we actually doing here? The idea that if you don’t respond to a work email right this moment, if you miss it for a few hours, you will have dropped the ball, weighs on us (weighs on us even more heavily as women. The need to please, to answer, to be on top of it—but again, I’m not a scientist).
Somehow we’ve all become doctors without being paid like doctors. Because of the smart phone we’re all on call, all the time. Why did we ever let this happen to ourselves?
Why did we let the smart phone shape us like this?
I’m not convinced this way of working is actually creating better work. I’m not convinced
that we’re not actually just creating more work for ourselves. I’m not convinced that the triggers and urges to respond as quickly as possible is proof of the good-worker inside of us, but instead is just how we are succumbing to addictive behavior because of emotional triggers that are more about us than about the work.
As the tool, the smart phone, continues to shape us, continues to shatter the boundaries
of a work life balance, we should consider two things:
1. Reclaiming the value of efficiency and the art of balance. To be efficient is to function in the best possible manner with the least waste of time or energy. Consider this the next time you are responding to emails at midnight, consider your work performance measured by efficiency. Strive to maintain a balance with work, with life, with family, with yourself—“maintain” being the key word here.
2. Consider a good tool vs. a bad tool. This is the metric I have used to determine good tools, good new apps, new social sites, new photo sharing sites, etc. vs. bad ones. It’s not the amount of time I—or people in general—are spending on these sites, the amount of time people are using these tools, the
number of unique users—it’s what these tools are allowing people to put into the universe. What these tools are allowing people to be.
So I guess that what it comes down to, (and I’m only writing this in the first place because it’s something I’ve been struggling with– not because I have some great insight here) is what we have to continue to stay aware of is how we allow these tools to shape us—because they will, and they are. We have to consider what is happening to us as these innovations continue to transform our society. We need to have the confidence to determine what we will allow and what we have the right (for our sanity, for ourselves) to preserve.