Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Smartphones let work win out

By Maggie Jackson, Special to CNN
September 14, 2012 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maggie Jackson: We blend home and work because we all use smartphones
  • Jackson: We are empowered, yet disturbed by this free-for-all
  • She says that in a mobile world, work tends to win out over other parts of life
  • Jackson: As much as we try to believe otherwise, it matters what we do, where we are

Editor's note: Maggie Jackson is the author, most recently, of "Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age."

(CNN) -- Tonight, as my husband stands in our bedroom, fingers whirling across his smartphone and eyes glued to its tiny screen, I have no idea "where" he is. Is he checking the score of his beloved home team, or dealing with a rant from an indefatigable boss overseas? Is he working or home-ing, or both?

This melding of work and home, of course, is an old story. In 1999, I wrote an article about three generations of a Baltimore family and their work-life balance. Shattering my romantic views on what it was like to live a few easy steps from work -- literally over the store -- the family's elderly patriarch told me that his parents couldn't wait to move to the suburbs and put some distance between family and work. Their hardware business had shadowed their evenings and weekends, stealing peace. Decades later, the patriarch's restless, cell phone-toting, entrepreneurial son blamed the portability of work for his recent divorce.

How smartphones make us superhuman

Maggie Jackson
Maggie Jackson

In the digital age, we blend home and work, not because we are tied to a store or farm or job, but because the fetters of time and space seem shattered. We can physically circuit the globe in hours, and our thoughts can move across the planet in seconds. Time seems putty in our hands. Our lives are increasingly shorn of context.

My early days in the mobile revolution

Does it matter much whether it's night or day, spring or fall, home or the office? We are empowered, yet disturbed by this free-for-all. Two recent reports underscore the tensions within these shifts.

Visa Europe CEO: Smartphones the future
The battle of the smartphones

While more companies are allowing employees to work when and where they want to, they increasingly are limiting people's ability to take a leave or work part-time, the Families and Work Institute found in its 2012 National Study of Employers. Flex-time is up, but career breaks have fallen steeply.

More than half of executives get business information at all hours, according to a survey released earlier this year by Forbes Insights and an advertising firm. As many executives reported feeling enabled as irritated by an "@Work State of Mind." Nearly a third of those executives who feel "in control" of their always-on lives also describe themselves as resigned to the situation.

Is overwork the trouble? Yes and no. In a blended world, work does tend to win out over other parts of life.

Studies over the past decade show that people who work at home or outside the office tend to work longer hours, contrary to employers' initial fears. According to a recent survey, 54% of American smartphone owners check their phones in bed -- sometimes in the middle of the night. And at a Chicago marketers' networking luncheon where I recently spoke on a panel, a majority of the crowd of 150 reported, in a show of hands, that they sleep with a smartphone within reach.

Even if work is our passion, as it is mine, we're pitching ourselves headlong and unthinkingly into a world without boundaries -- a world without rest.

But overwork is perhaps the least of the challenges when we blend work and home. The blending itself changes how we work, as well as how long we work. In frantically integrating work and home, we stray perilously close to diluting both. This is a matter of attention, intention, and depth.

In courting the always-on livelihood, we're turning our backs on rich moments of full focus and absorption, in favor of darting restlessly back and forth between two or more complex streams of life. The integrity of a moment is lost when we unthinkingly blend different parts of our life.

I'm writing this on a Sunday. My teen is sleeping in and my husband is away. The silence of the morning provides a perfect context for writing. But when my groggy teen wakes up, I'll put aside my work, and we'll share toast and tea and a plan of the day. Because if I tried to skate through breakfast with one eye on my daughter and one eye on the clock or smartphone, a fleeting moment of togetherness would be diluted. The silken threads of mutual presence would be thinned to the point of fraying.

As much as we try to believe otherwise, it matters where we are.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maggie Jackson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT