Our Time Is Not Our Own
Time is the new space.
This piece was originally posted on stoweboyd.com on 2011-05-28. But the recent discussions about quiet quitting stimulated me to pull it from the mothballs.
Jolie O'Dell cites another study showing the obvious: that tuning into the world outside the piecework on your desk takes time. It you add up all the time that we spend reading things, communicating with people we known, and looking at websites, and then multiply it by the dollars per hour we are paid, it’s a big number.
It’s preposterous to have to counter this handwaving once again, but here goes:
Workers are not gears in a machine. If your job can be performed by a soulless automaton, then your business should buy one and turn it on. You are in your job because you are a human being, and you need to be able to apply your reasoning and problem-solving skills to your work. Machines can’t do that yet, except in very narrow domains like chess playing and identifying trees based on the shapes of leaves.
Our time is not our own. I truly believe that our time is increasingly not our own, but I don’t believe that our time is owned by the company that pays us. What I mean is something quite different. But first, let me dispel the other meaning.
In a world where work/life balance is increasingly blurred – especially for creatives and professionals – we are not really being paid to punch in for eight hours, and then leave the ‘plant’ where we never spend a moment thinking about work. As if.
The reality is we are being paid for results. We are supposed to make progress against goals in the projects and work we are involved in, and the new normal is that we are – to some extent – always working. And to a similar and complementary extent, we are always living our personal life too.
It’s only when some boneheaded Taylorist with a bug up his ass starts measuring our bio breaks with a stopwatch that the old convention of the timecard is pulled out of mothballs, once again.
Our time is not our own, 21st century version: Time is the New Space. The norms of social and business conduct are increasingly shaped by the social contract we are making online, as opposed to the other way around.
Stowe Boyd, Social Business
We are not sharing space online, although it the conventional wisdom says we are. We are sharing time. Time has become a shared resource.
Our time is increasingly not our own, in a good way, as we move into a streamed model of connection.
Individual time becomes less of a reality, and a shared thread of time will become the norm — shared with those that are most important to you and those that reciprocate. This will change the basic structure of work.
Time is increasingly less linear, less mechanical; but more subjective and plastic.
Individuals will choose to trade personal productivity for connectedness, as voices in the stream ask for help, pointers, and introduction. Connectedness will trump other obligations, specifically timeliness.
Or to recast it in more pragmatic and workaday terms: the reason that we can do our jobs is in large part derived from who we are, and what we know, and not just some static set of skills we possessed when we were hired.
We are learning machines, and otherwise not machine-like at all. We are designed to be constantly learning, as much as possible, and a great deal of our social interaction is based around that dimension. A great deal of thinking is tied up with learning, not just applying rote knowledge to static problems. We literally have to learn our way through new situations.
Many companies have abrogated their responsibility to help employees learn continuously, and so we have taken it upon ourselves to do so. And it’s no great loss since industrial-era education was generally teaching skills that were half out-of-date as soon as they were learned, anyway.
So, the millions of dollars that are being 'stolen’ by employees chatting with friends or reading blogs isn’t a theft at all. They are employees investing themselves in social connection through which learning happens.
Yes, it is a bottom-up, rogue sort of learning, where the employers aren’t calling the shots, but it is learning, nonetheless. And the businesses in the end get the benefit of smarter – a synonym nowadays for 'more connected’ – workers, as the result.
And the sooner that these idiot researchers throw away their stopwatches and start to measure what matters – instead of what’s easy to count – the better.