Separation Between Work and Home, from 2001 to 2011
Ten years ago yesterday, I did a remarkable thing: I went to work. I was having breakfast at the kitchen table, and turned on CNN around 8:40 am. It was on when the newscasters first reported that “a small plane” had hit the World Trade Center. I called my mother in New York City–”Mom, turn on your television!” We watched together for a few minutes. Before the second plane hit, I went to work. I had a CHI paper to work on, and the deadline was approaching.
By the time I got to work, it was apparent that something more serious than a freak accident was happening. My PhD student, Jason Elliott, called the lab–should he still come in today? I remember telling him yes, get your sorry posterior in here! We have a paper to work on! And what is the possible benefit in wallowing in mind-numbing disaster news coverage all day? The longer we wait to look at the news, the more we’ll get the real story and avoid all the confused false rumors and speculations. It’s all too terrible to contemplate, so let’s just get some real work done, OK?
Looking back, what strikes me is that in 2001, there was less news at work. At home, I had television and radio. At work, I didn’t. Sure there were websites with news–but they presented text and still pictures–and much less quickly updated than is the norm today. Video and audio online were rare. By going to work, I could focus on my work.
On December 25th, 1992 I wrote an essay called Christmas Unplugged about the way the Internet is reducing the separation between work and home. I tried to publish it in time for Christmas 1993, but no one was interested. A year later, I sent it out again, and got an immediate positive response. It appeared in Technology Review in January 1995. Since then, the interconnectedness of work and home via the Internet has slowly increased. Yesterday was a fascinating point of comparison. In 2001, work was still a somewhat separate realm. In 2011, if something momentous happens, I don’t think going to work could help you block it out. The news is in my Twitter stream. In fact, today news arrives faster when I’m at work than at home!
The ability to avoid distractions and focus on news is just one of many consequences of this connectedness. Another is the ability to work at home. Which is both good and bad. When I was a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab, people were in the building at all hours of the night. Sometimes we were working late, and sometimes we were playing Diablo. Two or three nights a week, my graduate advisor, Mitchel Resnick, was nice enough to offer me a ride home–typically around 11 pm. When I was back to visit recently, I asked if people still kept crazy hours there. The answer I got was: people still work just as hard, but they do it from home. Whether this is a net gain or loss for either productivity, sociability, or work/life balance I can’t say.
People have always had to make choices about work/life balance. The difference today is that geography is no longer a tool we can use to help. Work life, home life, and the greater world around us are with us at all times on our desktops and our phones, all mixed together. We still need to make those choices, but we can’t implicitly make them by choosing to be at the office or not at a given time. Maybe we need new tools to help.
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
- Why LinkedIn is Creepy: Asymmetry of Visibility
- A Great Experience That Must Stop: Words With Friends and the Mindful Use of Technology
- The Sexism of the Stay-at-Home Mom
- Checks and Balances on Surveillance of US Citizens: The Role of Watchdog Organizations
- A Targeted Ad on Social Media that Worked!
- Everything is Cheaper on Amazon--Is This Good News?
- How much time are you spending on your smartphone?
- On Google Glass and Gargoyles: a Call to Action
- Reconnecting with Old Friends Online--Is the Sense of Connection an Illusion?
- Balancing HCI and Computational Thinking: Levels of Abstraction and Agency
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- 43,612 hits
- RT @Slate: Sesame Street's new Muppet has a father in jail--VIDEO: slate.me/127oWTr 2 hours ago
- @elehack @reidpr neat idea--thanks :) 7 hours ago
- I am looking for a fun paper about a successful collaborative computing/CSCW system for first class of Collaborative Computing. Any ideas? 7 hours ago
- America's Worst Charities. Investigative reporting by the Tampa Bay Times. ht.ly/m99LN 8 hours ago
- RT @techdirt: Retired Federal Judge Explains Why The FISA Court Should Not Be Trusted dlvr.it/3XCLgp 1 day ago