The boundary between work and home

A growing number of companies are telling employees to stop using electronics to work even when you are home.  From Cecilia Kang:

Tonight, employees at the Advisory Board have an unusual task: Stay off ­e-mail.

Stash away those smartphones and laptops, the District firm has instructed. For those who just can’t stay away, read but don’t reply. And while we’re at it, ignore your inbox throughout the weekend, too, the firm added.

The consulting firm’s push for no after-hours e-mail is part of a growing effort by some employers to rebuild the boundaries between work and home that have crumbled amid the do-more-with-less ethos of the economic downturn.

In recent years, one in four companies have created similar rules on e-mail, both formal and informal, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Firms trying out these policies include Volkswagen, some divisions of PricewaterhouseCoopers and shipping company PBD Worldwide.

For the vast majority of companies and federal offices, the muddying of work and personal time has had financial advantages. Corporations and agencies, unable to hire, are more productive than ever thanks in part to work-issued smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology, economists say.

And that presents one of the great conundrums of our recessionary era: E-mail has helped companies eke out more from each worker. But the perpetually plugged work culture is also making us feel fried.

“There is no question e-mail is an important tool, but it’s just gone overboard and encroached in our lives in a way where employees were feeling like it was harder and harder to achieve a good balance,” said Robert Musslewhite, chief executive of the Advisory Board, a health and education research and software-services firm.

Official numbers show just one in 10 people brings work home, according to a Labor Department report in 2010. But economists say that figure is wildly conservative because it counts only those who are clocking in those hours for extra pay.

More often, employees work evenings and weekends beyond their normal hours and do not record that time with their employers, labor advocacy groups say. And that’s made work bleed into just about every vacant space of time — from checking BlackBerrys and iPhones at school drop-offs, on the way home from happy hour and just after the alarm clock rings, they say.

via After-hours e-mail, companies are telling employees to avoid it – The Washington Post.

Some professions just don’t fit the 9 to 5 hourly breakdown.  If you own or are responsible for a business, you are thinking about it round-the-clock.  Even with me, a professor and college administrator, I find myself thinking about what to present in my classes or what to do about some problem at any time in the day or night, including when I toss and turn in the middle of the night (where I seem to get my best ideas).

It’s worth noting too that when Luther was articulating the doctrine of vocation, there was no boundary between work and home, since most work–farming, crafts, most trades–was done at home (as opposed to what happened after the industrial revolution when most economic labor took place away from the family).  Thus Luther wrote about the vocations of the “household,” which included both the family callings such as marriage and parenthood and what the family did to earn a living.

And yet, arguably, the invasion of the home by the workplace, abetted by technology, may well be eroding the other vocations we have.  Notice how when we hear the word “vocation” we immediately think of our “job.”  In Luther’s day and in the Biblical writings about “calling” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:17), people would first think about things like marriage.  (See our book on the subject, Family Vocations.)

There is little doubt that today people are neglecting their callings as spouse, parent, church member,  citizen, et al., because of their pre-occupation with their work and the enabling device of their smart phones.  Would you agree?  Do we need to “rebuild the boundaries between work and home”?  Or do we need to break down those boundaries, but in a different way than we have been doing?

Pinch to zoom

If you have a smart phone, can you pinch your fingers together while touching the screen to make the images smaller?  And move your fingers apart to make the images bigger?

Well, that so-called “pinch to zoom” technology was invented by Apple for its iPhones, even though other cell phone makers are now also including the feature.  But this was one of the patents upheld by that recent court ruling in Apple’s suit against Samsung.

Some people are indignant that Apple is able to patent a gesture, saying that pinching the screen to change the image is so “natural” that everyone should be able to do that, complaining further that Apple is harming consumers by limiting their choices, and that sort of thing.

I say that Apple is entitled to their patents and to the fruits of their creativity.  Some years ago, Apple lost a patent lawsuit against Microsoft, which copied Apple’s point-and-click device known as a “mouse.”  Microsoft also lifted Apple’s graphic interface, that is, the use of icons, which simply have to be clicked by said mouse, as a way of accessing software and all that a computer can do.  Apple deserves to win this patent dispute, at least.

All Samsung or other cell phone manufacturers have to do if they want to include this feature is to pay Apple a licensing fee, as they do for other patent holders.

Is there any argument–based on justice and equity–why Apple should give away their intellectual property?  Other than someone wanting them to or the desire to have iPhone features without having to pay for an iPhone?  But those arguments lack justice and equity.

Post-‘pinch’? Apple patent-case win could point to new digital age for smartphones – The Washington Post.

Sunday’s landing on Mars

Remember those spunky little rovers that were landed on Mars, sending back pictures of the Red Planet for years on end?  Well, another rover is scheduled to touch down on Mars this Sunday, August 6.

It’s the size of an SUV, with massive digging arms, lasers, and automated laboratories that may settle the question of Martian life once and for all.  The plan is for this 2000 pound vehicle, named “Curiosity,” to be dropped inside a Martian crater that appears to have once held water.  The difficulty of this landing, requiring pin-point precision of all systems, is being described as “seven minutes of terror” for the NASA team trying to pull this off.

If it works, we will greatly expand our knowledge of Mars.  And have some sublime photos of another world.

With Mars mission and rover Curiosity, NASA hunts building blocks of life – The Washington Post.

You can watch EVERY Olympics event

Are you psyched up about the Olympics, which starts this weekend, with the opening ceremonies getting underway tonight?  They sort of snuck up on me.  I get more and more interested as the games go on.  This year the television and online coverage will be unprecedented.  In fact, it will be total.

Oklahoma sports columnist Mel Bracht reports that NBC and its affiliates will broadcast 5,535 hours of coverage.  Compare that to 161 hours in the 1992 Barcelona games.  The Olympics will be on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC, MSNBC, and Bravo. (Check the link below for what each network will concentrate on.)

But most impressive will be NBCOlympics.com.  This site, for the first time ever, will livestream EVERY Olympics event.  And if you get your internet service bundled with a cable or satellite TV service, this access will be FREE.

NBC Universal to offer record 5,535 hours of Olympics coverage | NewsOK.com.

How teenagers buy music today

The music industry is struggling because so much of its product can be accessed for free, what with YouTube and “radio” sites such as Pandora (setting aside illegal downloads).  But even when a person wants to buy music, it’s hard if you aren’t old enough for a credit card.  And it’s even harder if you want to buy music your parents wouldn’t approve of.  From Aaron Leitko:

The Internet has given kids boundless opportunities to hear music gratis, but few ways to pay for it.

To shop for mp3s on iTunes or Amazon, you need a credit card or debit card. If you’re a minor with an allowance, you probably don’t have either. . . .

If your tastes don’t align with Best Buy’s music buyer, you’ll have to turn to iTunes. And your folks, who control the purse strings.

“Right now, most kids are using parents’ iTunes accounts or otherwise relying on parental permission to make their purchases,” says Mary Madden, a researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The only hiccup: The songs that teenagers want to hear and the songs their parents let them hear are often very different. Leveraging chores in exchange for Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (uncensored version, of course), the Tool discography or anything Odd Future-related is for brazen teens with particularly liberal or oblivious parents. For the rest, an awkward conversation about the record’s content is inevitable — unless they get their hands on a gift card.

“This is kind of the untold genius of iTunes that’s not spoken about, when it comes to teenagers, is the gift card,” says Crupnick, who estimates that two-thirds of the money teens spend online is with such cards. . . .

“They only ever pay for music out of respect for the artist,” MTV researcher Mariana Agathoklis says. “They almost view that as a way to show off their fandom, where it used to be that you would follow an artist on tour, you would look like them and wear their T-shirts.” A record is no longer an impulse buy — it’s patronage.

via How can you be a rebel if you use Mom’s iTunes account? – The Washington Post.

Amazon’s same DAY delivery

We blogged earlier about how online shopping sites have a big advantage over local businesses in not having to charge sales tax.  So states and now Congress have been trying to pass laws to collect those taxes.  Amazon used to fight those efforts, but no longer, saying, in effect, throw me into that briar patch. From Farhad Manjoo in Slate:

Why would Amazon give up its precious tax advantage? This week, as part of an excellent investigative series on the firm, the Financial Times’ Barney Jopson reports that Amazon’s tax capitulation is part of a major shift in the company’s operations. Amazon’s grand strategy has been to set up distribution centers in faraway, low-cost states and then ship stuff to people in more populous, high-cost states. When I order stuff from Amazon, for instance, it gets shipped to California from one of the company’s massive warehouses in Kentucky or Nevada.

But now Amazon has a new game. Now that it has agreed to collect sales taxes, the company can legally set up warehouses right inside some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Why would it want to do that? Because Amazon’s new goal is to get stuff to you immediately—as soon as a few hours after you hit Buy. . . .

It’s hard to overstate how thoroughly this move will shake up the retail industry. Same-day delivery has long been the holy grail of Internet retailers, something that dozens of startups have tried and failed to accomplish. (Remember Kozmo.com?) But Amazon is investing billions to make next-day delivery standard, and same-day delivery an option for lots of customers. If it can pull that off, the company will permanently alter how we shop. To put it more bluntly: Physical retailers will be hosed.

via Amazon same-day delivery: How the e-commerce giant will destroy local retail. – Slate Magazine.


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