When to switch off

Is 24/7 connectivity always a good thing?

We look at our mobile phones around 150 times a day, according to a report by Nielsen, a leading global market research consultancy. Why do we do this? While few would dispute the advantages of being digitally connected whenever we want and wherever we are, does this mean we have to be available 24/7? And what are the implications for our personal lives, and our health?

I believe it’s all a question of balance. It’s about ensuring the technology works for us and not becoming ‘slaves to the machine’. As a small business owner, technology enables me to offer the services of a much larger organisation. I can offer great customer service by replying to emails swiftly and check on the status of my business. I can work from home, my office, a client’s office, in any town and in any country; my business is totally mobile. Whilst many parents are struggling to meet rising childcare costs, technology gives me a way around the problem – not to mention rush-hour traffic and peak rail fares.

I am conscious, however, of the boundaries between my work and domestic life, and I’m sure many families aren’t as forgiving as mine! We don’t need to have our heads buried in our phones every evening and weekend, and be reading our emails at 10pm when it can wait until the morning!

Left unchecked, there are also consequences for our health and personal wellbeing, from headaches to high blood pressure, if we don’t switch off from work (literally in this case). There were 221,000 new cases of illness from work due to stress or depression in 2011, according to the Government’s Health and Safety Executive. Furthermore, psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle actually claims in her recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, that over-use of social media can ironically add to our sense of isolation.

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The way to avoid these problems is to learn to set our own boundaries for our use of technology. If you make a point of disconnecting at a certain point each day, you’re insisting that work/life balance is sacrosanct. Turn your work phone off at 8pm, perhaps. Don’t take it to dinner. And no work emails in bed!
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