Do we control technology, or does it control us?

In general, the narrative around mobile technology use is either non-existent or cast in a negative light. Some see technology as a tool to be used, while others view it as a disruption or mechanism for addictive behaviours. 

Theoretical concepts around the impact of technology on human behaviour have two distinct opposing perspectives.

The first is a social constructivist view. This is where technology is neutral and useful for achieving specific tasks. The user engages with devices within their own personal technical abilities and focussed on how technology and people interact over time.  This view focuses on the dynamic interactions between people and technology and includes how the people use and adapt to technology, at home and work. The socially constructed nature of the use of technology by humans is premised by the view that ‘we make tools, and tools make us’.

The second is a deterministic perspective. This is where technology is given the ability to change and shape human behaviour and social structures. This viewpoint suggests that technology and human behaviour is ‘mutually dependent, integrative, and co-evolving over time’ (for more information on this perspective, see Orlikowsi & Scott’s work on Sociomateriality p. 443).

These two theoretical concepts have a direct impact on what is called ‘Boundary Theory’. This is where workers subconsciously or actively create and maintain barriers between their work life and home life. We can either think of technology as a way to accomplish our life and career goals or we can think of technology as a type of master that we are a type of slave to. Boundary Theory has become a lot more important since its first conceptualisation at the turn of the 21st century, with the now ubiquitous use of laptops, tablets and mobile phones that allow constant access to workplace files and communication.

Remote working has gone even further in highlighting how important it is to manage the right level of workplace technology use during time traditionally allocated to private pursuits and homelife. When remote working, some people have no choice to and some people prefer to integrate their family and work lives. ‘Integrators’ generally use the flexibility that technology allows them to manage home demands while still fulfilling workplace demands. Working while children are in bed or at school and being available in late afternoons for home-based responsibilities.

Other workers prefer to have distinct boundaries between work and home life. This is not so easy to do when remote working from home. Unless there is a separate space within the home to conduct work, it can be really difficult to mentally, physically and emotionally separate out the two life-realms. ‘Segmenters’ tend to get really frustrated and can become quite exhausted when they are not able to create these strong boundaries between their various responsibilities.

A few hints and tips:

If you prefer to segment than integrate different life-realms, but feel forced to due to remote working from home, below are a few potential ways you can create psychological boundaries between the two:

  • Use different technology for home and workplace activities
  • Try not to upload work emails onto your personal mobile phone. Some people use two different phones (one for personal and one for work use) so that they can switch off the work phone at the end of the working day
  • Have a ‘for work only’ notebook that you can leave somewhere easily accessible, so if you have a work-based idea/thought or you remember something you forgot to do, you can jot it down and tackle it the following working day
  • Walk around the block at the beginning or end of the working day. This can create a sense of ‘leaving home’ and ‘leaving the office’. It may not be quite the same as transporting yourself to an alternative location, but it can create a more definitive boundary between the two realms.

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