Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, with everything we need at the click of a button. So how come our working lives are just getting longer and lonelier?
Its 8.30pm on a wet, cold Wednesday evening in March and I'm halfway through my 90-minute train journey home when I notice opposite me a guy in his late 40s who looks like his world has just come to an abrupt end.
He is working on his laptop, which has just lost its wireless hot-spot connection to his office, while some sort of electronic device next to him appears to be on permanent vibrate. Simultaneously he is answering a call on his mobile from his wife explaining why he was not home an hour ago to read his kids that story he promised. I can't help but ask myself if there is an easier way …
We are told that technology will make our lives easier, help us become a more flexible, efficient workforce and yet it appears at times that in fact such advancements are making us work harder, faster and longer than ever before.
Blackberries, wireless hot-spots, project extranets are all new "e-tools" that on paper conjure up an image of the flexible, mobile employee. Mention the phrase home-working and it's hard not to picture yourself dressed in a comfy tracksuit, working in a state-of-the-art home surrounded by high-spec shiny chrome equipment while the dogs and kids play in the garden. Yet haven't we reached a point where we need to stop and question whether technology is allowing us to be as productive as we could be?
I admit recent developments in technology have provided us with quicker, more efficient access to information that can be shared and stored in vast scales, available at the click of a finger. But have such advancements made us a bit too accustomed to writing that quick and easy e-mail instead of picking up the telephone and talking about the issue on a one-to-one basis? We are, after all, only human, distinct from all other species by the gift of speech and designed to interact with each other.
Don't get me wrong, I love technology. I'm part of the texting-iPod generation that lives for the next gizmo-purchase to add to its bursting collection of already-out-of-date equipment. But I'm also part of a generation that needs to debate and discuss with those around them in order to learn and generate further ideas - something that I believe this era of technology risks leaving behind. I mean, whatever happened to that Friday afternoon telephone conversation between the client, QS and the contractor when a request was put through for a last-minute, urgent, Monday morning cost estimate, replaced now with a brief, possibly emotionless e-mail?
Where's the fun in that?
And what of the possible further implications to our home environments? With most homes now having access to high-speed internet connections it's easy to see how there is an increasing capability for us to become more flexible through technology and bring more work home. Yet perhaps, before we all rush to inform our employers that we can be contacted at our kitchen tables on Monday morning, we should question whether this is really something to encourage.
Mention the phrase home-working and it’s hard not to picture yourself dressed in a comfy tracksuit, working in a state-of-the-art home, while the kids play in the garden
The risk of working longer hours and reducing the work-home boundaries are all arguments that we have heard many times before by those who wish to protect the family environment.
I read recently that half of European workers spend two hours a day - or the equivalent of one working day a week - using email, and that 40% have checked their messages during holidays and 38% have done so during time off sick". I know myself that I question this so-called technological "friend" every time I get back from lunch and have 25 unanswered e-mails that I have to battle my way through for the next hour.
I guess my point is that, although we should not stop progress, we also need to ensure that we make greater use of the additional time created through technology. Most children are now online before the age of three or four and are part of a generation that I'm sure will reap the true benefits of future technology such as real-time videoconferencing. But for now, in an age where we are born clicking, we should not abandon the age-old art of speech.
So next time you are about to press "send", perhaps you should stop, consider the importance of making time in our busy lives to actually talk to each other, and pick up the telephone instead.
Kevin Bundy is a senior project manager at Davis Langdon and one of the 10 young professionals on Building's graduate advisory board