When digitisation is reined in

Dhaka,  Sat,  22 July 2017
Published : 15 Jul 2017, 19:42:59
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When digitisation is reined in

Mahmudur Rahman
How things turn full circle! Trust the creative curiosity to figure out that the bent figure of the Facebook logo so brilliantly captures the typical person on the street, walking with the head bent over the cell phone. Perhaps that's why, the same animation , from years ago of people smoking and then falling into a hole, is so easily adjustable by replacing the cigarette with the cell phone; the end still remains the same, in a hole.

Life work balance has become a cliché used by everyone, understood by few and the cause of exasperation for spouses. One of the direct consequences of multitasking and rising efficiency, life's balance went lop-sided in favour of work. Internet and email now hound, haunt and stalk. The irresistible urge to look at that last email has taken the fun out of personal time to the extent of it becoming a going through the motions exercise. Speed of communications, paperless societies and connectivity were the promises. Communication has speeded up, so has connectivity but the impact on personal and family life has been shattering. For some the difference was between lugging home huge files and having them all on computers or phones. But with hacking, viruses and malaware floating around, the diversion is taking up more time.

The French government has been the first to legislate that employees are no longer bound to read or respond to office mail after working hours. It also stipulates that employee contracts must agree these arrangements. France is one of a few nations with a 35 hour work week but the government is concerned that office work is eating into personal time. There are multinationals strict enough to switch power off after office hours. Yet habits die hard. Global companies have a penchant of sending out mail for responses by end of work Friday, oblivious that that is a weekly holiday in many countries. On the contrary mail sent on a Saturday or Sunday doesn't get responded to till Monday... Communication during the western festival holidays is a no no, but whether it clashes with holidays of other faiths is never considered.

The Smartphone with its multi-faceted attractions, gaming, social media, photography, online music, films as well as texts, mails and even casual reading have forced a time-rationing that is contributing not just to work-life imbalance but also a furtive re-engineering of social interaction. The simple walk to the neighbourhood grocer or searching for the driver has been replaced by the call or text. The brighter lights that seeped from homes at late night, perhaps an indicator of young minds at study, has given way to paler versions of illuminated phone screens. Parliament members are in uproar, seeking intervention to restrict social media during night-time as one means of preventing a fall from grace by youngsters. It leaves the young ones chuckling. Those who will, will go astray. The others won't. Prohibition has never worked; it never will.

Marijuana is now permissible in Holland and states in the US are contemplating to do likewise. Someday, the same may apply to harder drugs once society decides that the 'forbidden fruit' factor out of the way might just solve itself. Companies that have experimented in the email free day, have reported an increase in productivity. In the hazy past, inter-com phone free days created greater bonds among workforce. The multiple copies of mail, encouraging on-line self-development and more and more on-line versions of everything ranging from expenses claims through leave applications and in-house communications is forcing more people to keep looking at phones and computers. Off-site training loses much of its purpose when participants keep an ear open on the training and both eyes in their mail as the uninitiated continue the flow of urgent messages that require immediate attention. These have contributed to the old formula of knowledge retention coming unstuck.

This scribe recalls the positive vibes of colleagues in another country describing the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as being someone who 'always responds to mail quickly'. It left a sinking feeling in the tummy. Could that mean a mail at 3a.m would require an immediate response? There was one sense of perverse satisfaction though. The CEO admitted to the need for an increase in painkillers for headaches! 

mahmudrahman@gmail.com

 
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