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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Shackled and chained

For those of you who have read my prior posts and may have been following some of my musings on my vocational meanderings, you will know that I work within the social services.  For much of the recent past, say the last few years, I have been working behind the scenes, involved in the analysis and design of social service delivery models, processes and systems.  Such work, although collaborative at times, saw me spending much of my time researching and writing, eyes glued to the screen, chained to my desk, as it were.    Most recently however, I had the opportunity to return to the more ‘social-side’ of the human services field.  I’m not working in the trenches, the front-line, though.  Rather, I am working in management.  A little removed from carrying and managing a caseload, but challenging in its own right and certainly more social than the backend work that I had been doing for some time. 
I was excited to begin my new job.  I had worked in management a number of years ago, was a little disillusioned when I left, and was eager to give it a go again, armed with greater experience and knowledge and generally more maturity.  Also, I was eager to get out from behind my LCD, start interacting with people, rather than machines, speaking language with nuance and feeling rather than statistics and outcomes.  When I walked into my new office and sat in my new chair, I remember thinking, “This chair isn’t exactly comfortable, but that’s okay because I’m not going to be sitting in it too often”.  And, indeed I haven’t.  I’ve busted out of those chains that bound me to desk and screen.  But before you presume that this story continues with a soliloquy about how I emerged from the cubicle dungeon to take on the role of transformational leader, engaging my colleagues in participatory organizational change, think again.  That’s a story (perhaps) for another day.  Rather, the point that I want to make in this post is that I may have broken free of my desk, but I’ve traded the handcuffs of my 17 inch LCD for the tiny shackles that firmly hold my thumbs to the keyboard below a equally tiny 3 inch LCD. 
The smartphone that I was issued shortly after starting my new job found me sending and answering emails at all hours, in all sorts of places.  Any gap in time during the day was no longer filled with small talk with others but rather furious typing on those little devices.  I was interacting with others but not really.  I was interacting with my smartphone while communicating with others in staccato bursts, taking full advantage of its ubiquitous nature. 

Ubiquity is the concept of anytime, anywhere.  Mobile technology and its convergence with the Internet, embodied in the smartphone, give rise to the notion of ubiquitous information and communication:  the ability to access any information, at a moment’s notice, from anywhere in the world and communicate that information just as immediately.  Goggin (2011) asserts that this is a farfetched and far-off reality (p. 149).  We really don’t have access to all information all of the time and we are really not able to communicate instantaneously.  But is it really that farfetched and far-off?  Campbell and Park (2008) speak about the emergence of biotechnology and the “growth of sentient objects, that is, information and communication technologies embedded in the surrounding environment” (p. 383).  Could there come a time when our personal biotechnology interacts with sentient objects in our environment to provide our body and minds with information even before we think to ask for it or pause to wonder?  Could there come a time when we send an email to someone simply by thinking about it?
So I’ve traded the chains of my desk for the shackles of my smartphone.  Will there come a time when I trade those tiny shackles for something else entirely?  What will those bindings look like and, more importantly, how fettered will I be?
Campbell, S. W. and Park, Y. J. (2008), Social Implications of Mobile Telephony: The Rise of Personal Communication Society. Sociology Compass, 2: 371–387.
Goggin, G. (2011). Ubiquitous apps: politics of openness in global mobile cultures. Digital Creativity, 22(3), 148-159.

Image courtesy of Pong,

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