The Big Blur
Web Informant #196, 20 April 2000
People used to demarcate [work and home life] rigidly, not just with time clocks but even down to the tenor of their conversation. More often than not, an executive would "put on his game face" walking in the office door. Hour-long commutes home served as the decompression chamber. Now, of course, work goes home with you. Managers check their voice mail while the pasta is cooking and compose e-mail while the baby naps. Even Sybil couldn't switch personalities that fast. For better or for worse, in the blurred world, the "work you" and the "home you" have to meld.
-- from the book "Blur" by Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer
There is no doubt that the Internet has brought about more blur in our lives. I used to think this was a Good Thing, and wanted to chronicle these developments much like a parent would take note of baby's first steps, first words, and other firsts.
In the past year, all of my relatives got connected and we all now send e-mails to each other on a regular basis. This past tax season was the first time I was able to complete my taxes without having to send Uncle Sam any paper at all. Most of my other bill paying is now accomplished online, all in the interests of saving time. Most of our gifts are purchased via online storefronts such as Amazon, eToys and the like. At family gatherings, the discussion quickly moves to the latest hot Internet stock and who is going public next week, along with the relative merits of using broadband cable to access the net.
My daughter thinks nothing of composing her homework on Word, flipping over to the Internet Webster dictionary to find a definition, and back to Word to finish her assignment. When I asked her why she used www.m-w.com, rather than find the printed copy of the dictionary, she just looked at me like I was from another planet - it has become part of her daily routine, to say nothing of Instant Messaging her friends far and wide.
I gave a presentation at her school to all the fourth and fifth graders the other day. The session was held in the computer lab at the school, with a reasonably fast Internet connection and a nice large-screen monitor, so that all the kids could see the Web sites I had chosen. It was a speech
similar to one I would have given at any professional conference (other than the audience, of course), using equipment and level of Internet access that I would expect to have. It occurred to me after the presentations that no one thought this was remarkable in any way - even the teachers took the constant presence of the Internet in their classrooms for granted.
I am not so sure that I want my work and home selves to meld any further than they already are. On one hand, it is nice to have our industry become so mainstream, and have a ready topic of conversation around the dinner table. And the convenience of having all this information at one's fingertips is certainly nice. But the big blur also means that I now spend lots more time outside of nine-to-five working than I'd like. It takes no time to pad down to the kitchen in the morning and check my e-mail before I even have breakfast. I worry that I have a new addiction: I can't go a few hours without seeing my messages.
If you were expecting me to provide a prescription for dealing with the big blur, I'm sorry but I still have plenty of conflict here. Part of me wants to approach the problem as a computing professional, and part of me wants to deal with it as just an ordinary carbon-life form. I guess that in itself is telling. Of course, I welcome your own suggestions as always. In the meantime, I'm taking a few days' off from reading e-mail. Really. Starting tomorrow.
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