A few days ago, my son was driving me to the mall and telling me about his college experiences while I was responding to a work email on my iPhone. “Just one minute,” I told him. Of course, he knew it would take me more than a minute.
As much as we love our smartphones and mobile devices, it’s hard to deny how much attention they demand. In 2015, we found ourselves torn between embracing our devices as powerful tools to work and communicate and letting them dictate our lives. As entrepreneur Jessica Kizorek has noted: Tech addiction is tough to define because “everybody’s doing it.”
Yet, there are some notable ways technology is evolving and can help work/life balance.
Romance. In the digital age, the concept of romance has evolved to adapt to our complicated work and home lives. While some people question whether technology gets in the way of real romance, some believe the opposite is true. Some couples text throughout the day, using digital communication to stay in touch or spice up their relationship. Relationship coach Maya Ezratti says: “Communicating electronically is not a replacement for face to face, but it can be an enhancement.”
Inboxes. From software to mobile applications, new innovations are rolling out to change our experiences with email and help us create the boundaries and priorities that we are struggling to set on our own. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Google are studying our behaviors to develop tools and email features to help us be more efficient. The technology companies are looking at how analytics and algorithms can sort our email and figure out what we should — or shouldn’t — be giving priority.
Personal development. Technology now allows us to better fit workplace training into our work/life balance. The traditional training models of all-day workshops are being replaced by apps, games, simulations and podcasts to better fit workers’ needs. Some employers are tapping into the explosion of educational technology and online courses and aggregating options through portals they are pushing out to employees. Allison Rossett, emeritus professor of educational technology at San Diego State University says learning is becoming “on demand, personalized and mobile.”
Flexibility. Our devices make it easy to work from our homes instead of spending late nights toiling in the office. Of course, our new work pattern now makes knowing how to unplug as valuable as knowing how to plug in. David Greenfield, director of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in Connecticut. Greenfield says that if you think you are spending 15 minutes online, you likely really are spending 10 times that — or as much as 150 minutes. “We need more conscious self-awareness of our technology use,” he says.
As I pointed out in my Miami Herald column today, the devices that make it seductively simple to work outside of business hours will only get more sophisticated. Let’s make 2016 the year we use them to help us create the career path and work/life balance we seek.