The past several days my husband and I have been doing a major purging and reorganizing of our home offices. While being ill for several months and having a large extended work project, we let some of the paperwork go a bit so we both have files to weed, piles to file, and the like. We also took some time and reorganized our offices based on a fresh look at our current priorities. (That’s a different post!) Overall, we are pleased with the results so far.
Today I’m going to post some items that I found while cleaning out my files. The first is a link to an article about The Subtle Disappearance of the Busy Signal from the Simple Living Network (now via Wayback Machine but inserted at the end of this post for posterity’s sake).
I’ve written before about the fact that one of the ways my husband and I have simplified is by not having a public cell phone. We do have a cell phone and we carry it with us at all times for emergencies. But it is never on unless one of us is gone somewhere without the other. We don’t give out the number and we don’t use it for business. It is also not our home phone number. We made the decision a long time ago that we don’t want to be that accessible.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in what Dr. Spina writes in this article. I agree that if we don’t purposefully make technology our slave, then we very quickly become a slave to it.
(If the copyright owner would like this removed, I am happy to delete it. I only add it here because it reflects an important time in history.)
The Simple Living Network
This article appeared in Issue #30 July-September 2000.
The Subtle Disappearance Of The Busy Signal
By Anthony C Spina, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2000. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted here by permission.
You cannot throw a frog into a boiling pot of water without it jumping out instantaneously. Yet, if you were to place it in a cool pot and slowly raise the heat to the boiling point, the frog will unsuspectingly meet its fatal demise. Metaphorically speaking, we humans are also cooking in a technological cauldron.
Recently, I became aware of this in the observance of a strange phenomenon — the disappearance of the busy signal. There used to be a time when you phoned someone, already engaged in a conversation, you would hear a annoying, cyclic busy tone. This was a signal to the caller that the other person was unreachable or. . . busy. Nowadays, that signal or the notion of being unreachable has all but disappeared. At a time in society when we have a plethora of stress-related diseases and a desire for more free time to spend with children, family , and friends, we celebrate that we are a technology-equipped people that can be reached anytime, any where, any how. In fact, there is no exemption from other peoples’ demands or intrusions.
The current crop of information technologies has enabled a situation to exist that no longer renders us the freedom to be busy. The well-wired American has call/waiting or an answering machine which can’t escape someone’s message. If that doesn’t work, send him/her a fax. He/she can also receive e-mail. If none of these work, try calling his/her cell phone or beeper which are always strapped to his/her waist.
The busy signal used to be a message to others that said, I’m busy, not available at this time. We, as members of the high-tech society, are not allowed to be busy or un-accessible. It is uncommon not to be accessible most of the time. We have even adopted a appropriate phrase to describe this new state of constant engagement. We are available 24/7. So the reason there is no busy signal is that there is no condition that is non-busy. Everybody is busy all the time. Thus, in order to gain one’s attention from this state of perpetual involvement, there are several technologies at hand to effect the interruption. Cell phones and beeper accomplish this task the best, since they are so close to our person. They nudge us with their variety of ringing or vibrate us silly until we respond. Of course we could shut all these services off and get our lives back, but that has become almost impossible.
These technologies are so pervasive and entwined with daily existence in the workplace, that they have invaded our personal lives as well. The line of demarcation between work and personal lives has become blurred. The use of the information tools which have crept into the corporate workplace, increasing productivity, have found their way into the rest of our lives as well. In a recent study, a recruiting firm surveyed 5000 executives. And found that 82% of them worked while on vacation. No doubt, this was aided by the PC, email, voicemail, and cell phones.
All inventions have consequences, some intended and some not anticipated. The above mentioned technologies were supposed to make our lives easier, perhaps even give us more free time. There is widespread evidence to suggest that just the opposite has been realized. Books with titles such as Technostress, Time Wars, Information Anxiety, Data Smog, and Hyperculture echo that something has gone awry. New illnesses have surfaced with names that reflect the new maladies, for example, Information Fatigue Syndrome. Social movements such as Voluntary Simplicity seek out the solace and meaning that once was.
We must view technologies critically and ask what problems are they solving and which new ones have they created. We have to ask ourselves, when is a technology a help and when does it become an intrusion on peace of mind and into our personal lives. Paraphrasing the words of Jacques Ellul, a French philosopher, instead of technology being subservient to humanity, human beings have had to adapt to it and accept total change. Technology has mediated both society and nature and has become an environment.
Therefore, if you are among the growing numbers of wired Americans that are seeking to find the off button or a way to turn on the busy signal once again, then perhaps you are beginning to feel the heat. Hopefully, we will be smarter than the frog.
About The Author
Anthony C. Spina, Ph.D. has over 25 years of business, industry, and education experience in both internal and external consulting. He has broad professional experience in multiple disciplines, such as organizational effectiveness, research, market analysis, training, change management, information technology, and marketing. Dr. Spina is the founder and president of Knowledge Resources, an organization focused on facilitating transitioning processes for both individuals and organizations attempting to meet the challenges and demands of constantly changing, complex environments. Dr. Spina considers himself a social critic and management philosopher passionately concerned about the societal impact of technology on the way we live and work.