Wireless Email, the "CrackBerry" and The Psyche
Ever greater numbers of people are carrying pocket-sized wireless email devices, or pocket digital assistants (PDAs) like the RIM Blackberry or the Palm Treo. As a phenomenon, it seemed to start with people in the financial sector and in IT, but it has spread rapidly throughout our society. Today an ever-growing number of people are linked to their work by this type of device. For many now, the capability to end and receive wireless email has become an indispensable tool of business. The technology is amazing. To be able to link with others via email through such small unobtrusive devices from virtually anywhere is fascinating. I think for many people there’s a feeling of empowerment from being able to do this. © Mylightscapes | Dreamstime.com I have no expertise that would allow me to comment on whether these devices really do enhance individual productivity. But a fundamental psychological question is “What is the real impact on the individual and his or her sense of personal power and agency?” One of the comments that I hear most frequently from clients is that these devices leave them unable to escape from the demands of the office. The vast majority of people who carry these devices seem to have had experiences of getting emails from co-workers at mid-night or even later hours such as two or three in the morning, or non-emergency emails on weekends or on holidays, with the request that the receiver “get back to me as soon as possible.” In many organizations, the expectation is that such an email will be responded to in, at most, two to three hours. One of the good aspects fo the suburban and exurban dreams has always been the ideal that home would be a refuge from work, a place to focus on personal and family life. When it is adopted in an indiscriminate and uncritical fashion, technology such as wireless email and PDAs has the potential to rapidly break down this sense of home as a personal haven and completely blur the distinction between working and personal ife. As a society, we are increasingly finding that the demands of work and connectedness are encroaching on, if not totally devouring the private sphere. There is often less and less space in a wired (or wireless) world for individuals to do the kind of reflection and relaxed digesting of experience that makes us self-aware human beings, and that gives us our sense of depth and self. If the individual doesn’t claim the space to do this for him- or herself, this aspect of life will disappear, and life will simply become more driven, more mechanized — less human. This is not a small issue for the health and well-being of psyche, or for the individuation process. As I listen to the experience of many of my clients, it is apparent that there is a major struggle going in this area of life around boundaries in our society. It concerns the extent to which people are prepared to let their whole lives be co-opted by their work identities — by the work “persona” or work “mask”, as Jung might say. Where personal life begins and work identity ends is a very personal decision. To know how and where to make this separation has to be the result of on-going deep dialogue with ourselves, including the unconscious. However, to stay human, to retain connection to soul, there has to be a place within each of us that is solitary, where the wires don’t reach, and where the real substance and value of our lives is allowed to simply emerge.