A few weeks ago, I wrote about a study by the Future Work Centre of London that found people who have their work email available on their phones experienced greater feelings of anxiety and frustration caused by the pressure to check in. While chatting with an editor about the story, she was floored when I admitted this was all new to me: I don’t have my work email on my phone.
“What if you need it,” she asked, “you know, for phone numbers or other stuff locked away in your Microsoft Outlook?” I explained that I occasionally check from my computer, but if I’m out and about — with friends or running errands or buying paper bags full of day-old bagels — I see no immediate need to be connected to my work email. If there is an emergency of some sort, I can be reached by phone or Slack. As another writer friend suggested, “Being offline is the new luxury.”
Part of my apprehension of marrying my work and home lives comes from having had jobs that consumed every fiber of my emotional being. I would sleep fitfully because my mind was so active from the day, then when I would finally fall asleep I’d dream about work, too. When I don’t bring my work home, I’m more pleasant to be around (which is still not that pleasant), and (with the help of several rude time-management apps) I get more work done during the day. Not all heroes wear capes. Not all martyrs are humble. Not all goddesses check their work email at home.
But it turns out that most people gave over their home lives to work long ago. A 2012 survey by the Center for Creative Leadership found 60 percent of professionals kept in touch with work for an average 13.5 hours per day and even spent five extra hours on the weekend checking work emails. I’ve lost the battle: Logging off is a thing of the past. Instead, the real concern now is even more sinister: Our actual home lives have begun to resemble our work lives, too.
Office tools are creeping into our personal lives in new ways all the time, and there’s no guidebook for dealing with them. Is it ever okay to send a calendar invite to ask a friend out to dinner? Should we start Slack channels with our families? Is my infant son going to have to reserve time in his playpen as if it were a conference room? Are we ever really “out of office” anymore?
Sure, one calendar to host both your work meetings and your doctor’s appointments is harmless enough: You can keep your mind organized without a flurry of dates and tasks all over the place. I am even tolerant of people who have their work and personal emails sent to the same in-box, for ease of access (though I promise you it can wait). But certain lines feel dangerous to cross.
A friend explained that when she’d gotten a calendar invite for dinner with a friend, she was not only aghast at the formality of the invite but also at the implication that she would have forgotten if they’d just exchanged a simple text message or email. “I’ll write it down in my Moleskine because that’s my system,” she said. A calendar invite is a universal practice during work hours because of the necessity of collating an entire staff’s schedules, but your friends cannot presume that your preferred techniques are the same as theirs. My friend was insistent that another person’s type-A behavior not be allowed to intrude on her easygoing lifestyle.
But other people I talked to found the social calendar invite helpful, even relationship-saving in some instances. One colleague explained that she sends calendar invites to her boyfriend for more official things, like concert tickets or a weekend trip, so they can keep track of their mutual schedules. A lot of times, she said, it’s just for her benefit, but she figures sending a calendar invite would legitimize the activities for her boyfriend, too. It’s doing them both a favor. Now they both know when Mets preseason starts. It says so right there.
But increasingly, people seem placated by the ease of a calendar invite, groomed to love planning via group text, and think, Okay, why not just go whole hog and invite Slack or similar tools to become part of our home lives? It’s similar to the desire that drives people to “hack their homes,” so they’ll never have to wonder if they forgot to turn the iron off or if they locked the garage door. Everything can be managed remotely. When we no longer make the time to actually call our relatives, there are Slack DMs.
There have been several trend stories over the past six months about people using Slack to connect their families. A Swedish father wrote of his family’s experience: “We use channels just the same way we use them at work. ‘fixahuse’ is a channel for stuff that needs to be fixed around the house, ‘general’ is important stuff, ‘handla’ is for picking up milk on the way home, ‘mathem’ is an integration i’ll get to in a bit, and ‘random’ is the usual cat gif mayhem we’ve all learned to love/hate. ‘pedertest’ is where i test new integrations.”
In another story on the subject of Slack at home, one user who had tried keeping in touch with her spread-out family in several different ways said Slack is an ideal way to consolidate everything in one place, from family photos and videos to individual messages and group chats. For them, Slack is a giant message board to remain connected. Just digital instead of analogue.
But wouldn’t it be nice if life didn’t need such scheduling and planning and organizing? As Tim Kreider wrote in “The ‘Busy’ Trap” in 2012, “It isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in.” It’s exactly this self-imposed busyness that leads people to blend work habits with their home lives. Spontaneity cannot be risked. Everything must be streamlined. And while streamlining is surely a sign of the Future, it leaves little room for a distinction between night and day, work and play. A little afternoon delight and rote sex.
What about phone calls? Or text messages? Notes? Video chat? What about … showing up in person? In Philly, we used to say we were “knocking up for someone” when we would swing by their house unannounced. Nobody knocks up for someone anymore. Imagine getting a calendar invite that implores if you’ll be home for a quick knocking-up session. Gimme a break!!
At the end of the workday, when the clock strikes six, I want to don my newsboy cap and coat, punch my time card, and take to drink with my loved ones. See you at 6:30 at the local watering hole. You know the one.
Oh, and no calendar invite necessary.