Is your gadget your boss?

If so, welcome to the club.

The New York Times takes a look at how the smartphone is outsmarting us — and may be wrecking the balance of our lives, to boot:

Given the widespread adoption of smartphones, text messaging, video calling and social media, today’s professionals mean it when they brag about staying connected to work 24/7.

Technology allowed Karen Riley-Grant, a manager at Levi Strauss in San Francisco, to take care of some business with her New York publicist while she was in labor in the hospital last November. “I had time on my hands,” she says, and “full strength on my phone — five bars.”

It once enabled Craig Wilson, an executive at Avaya in Toronto, to take his children to a Linkin Park concert and be able to duck out to finish a task for a client in Australia, he says, “without disruption to my family commitment or my work commitment.”

And it recently gave Perry Blacher, chief executive of the social investing firm Covestor, a way to participate in a board teleconference while attending a christening celebration at a pub in England.

But all of this amped-up productivity comes with a growing sense of unease. Too often, people find themselves with little time to concentrate and reflect on their work. Or to be truly present with their friends and family.

There’s a palpable sense “that home has invaded work and work has invaded home and the boundary is likely never to be restored,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “The new gadgetry,” he adds, “has really put this issue into much clearer focus.”

The phenomenon started with the rise of BlackBerrys and has snowballed with the use of more smartphones, social media and tablet computers. Employees are using their smartphones and other devices to connect with corporate e-mail, applications and data wherever they happen to be — whether at home, on the go or even on vacation.

Now add the effects of the recent recession. Because jobs and promotion opportunities are scarce, many workers are worried that someone who is more connected and available could outclimb them on the corporate ladder, says Peggy Klaus, an executive coach in Berkeley, Calif.

“Even if you have a career that is pretty solid,” she says, there is the feeling that advancement requires being plugged in at all times.

But at what price?

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4 responses to “Is your gadget your boss?”

  1. I went to an opera this afternoon. At the intermission I looked around and saw the glow of about a dozen smartphones. Also, sitting in front of me was a college student, obviously there because he was getting credit for a class. When he wasn’t slouched and probably sleeping, he was playing with his smart phone which was glowing in my eyes.

  2. Time slips away so quickly. The question to ask is whether the few precious years we have with our children is worth missing out on?

    Friends and family know that I refuse to text, and have only minimal more tolerance for email. I require human contact, a voice either in person or on voicemail.

    Even then, people know that I am not immediately accessible 24/7. It’s a miracle that we survived in the ’70”’s with one phone, no internet, no computers and one TV.

    When my first child, Joseph was born almost 12 years ago, I printed the lyrics to Cats in the Cradle, framed them, and have had that on my desk ever since. I’ve intentionally built my life around that song, and will be forever grateful to Harry Chapin for it.

    Being plugged in 24/7 catalyzes the great disintegration of far too many lives. Without a doubt there are material tradeoffs to unplugging. In the aggregate, I think it’s worth it.

  3. I remember thinking that having a laptop for work was too much of an invasion back in the early 90’s! And now look at where we are at.

    It is really about good boundaries, isn’t it? Something most of us struggle with, if we are honest about it. All kinds of good boundaries, ones that are flexible as they should be and others which are firm as they should be and yet others which must be open appropriately.

    I also think that our culture makes a god of money and productivity in a way that feeds this nonsense. It is like a bad game of musical chairs gone very wrong.

    It really is very sad, heartbreaking. And a reminder of what sin really is… we so often castigate the manifestations of it through sex and bad behavior, but this too can be sin.

  4. The boundaries are definitely blurred and perhaps we won’t get that work/home divide quite the same way again. But, on the other hand, for some people, the ability to connect when needed makes it possible for them to be more accessible to family and more “free” to be mobile.

    My dad is “retired,” but that means he now runs his own consulting business. He can’t control when certain clients will get back to him or need a question answered. So, he can either wait around for the call or email, OR he can come visit here and take his call or email when it comes. He’s even taken calls out on his boat while we are swimming with the grandkids. So, yes, you can see that it’s a shame he’s connected. Or you can see that by not having to wait in the house for that 10-minute call, he didn’t have to hold up the grandkids waiting to go swimming for an hour or more.

    I’m about to get my first smartphone by necessity. I’ve been laid off almost 2 years now and have to take any bit of freelance work I can find. I’ve lost jobs if I didn’t respond quickly and I’ve been told that I need to be easier to reach. I’m not sure how to balance accessibility yet, but in the freelance world, it’s a financial necessity right now. I know it will take a lot of getting used to. But, I’m hoping I can find that freedom in that I know I don’t have to be tied to my computer at home for the few necessary business calls or emails.

    So, it’s all in how you look at it — or in what you need to do.

    (Of course NONE of this excuses the phone during the opera!)

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