Separating work and play in a technological world is no easy 'multi'task

Although it may be hard to recall during this spell of beautiful fall weather, it was not too long ago that Hurricane Isabel blew through Charlottesville.

In writing about the aftermath of the storm, I mentioned how refreshing it was to have a momentary break from the computer, cell phones and email.

Apparently, I am not the only one who questions our reliance on technological devices to get through the day.

In the "Wall Street Journal" last week, an articleappeared about the blurring of boundaries between work and life -- thanks to BlackBerry devices, cell phones, pagers and video-conferencing.

On one hand, the article argued, our time away from work is not entirely free from professional pressures. Even as students, we feel pressure to check our e-mail during fall break and on the weekends, as professors often use these mediums to add new assignments to an existing syllabus.

On the other hand, the article also explored our tendency to accomplish personal tasks at work, using the Internet to make travel reservations, shop for clothes and schedule time with friends and family via e-mail.

A quick stroll through the University's computer labs will no doubt show you students "hard at work" ordering a winter coat from J-Crew, finalizing details for a weekend road trip on MapQwest and checking the weather for an upcoming football game.

During my first year, I struggled with the blurring of school and life and often wondered if school was my life. This confusion seemed to occur because we were living in dorms on-Grounds. At the end of the day, I never felt like I was going home. I always felt that I was still at school, which meant I ought to at least have my books open.

It wasn't until the migration to apartments occurred during second-year that I felt a clear distinction between school and life.

Apartments (and houses) offered kitchens, bathrooms meant for two or three rather than 20 and physical distance from the classroom.

I, for one, thought it became much easier to shut my books after classes ended for the day. Now, the struggle became opening them again after dinner.

As students, we are fortunate that "school" and "life" intersect on so many levels. We live in a community of peers within three years of our own age and being a student at the University defines a great deal of who we are.

And, let's be honest, having class from 9:30 to 12:15 Monday through Thursday makes the work-life balance much easier.

As we join the professional world, however, that balance will require significantly more effort on our part.

Perhaps technology isn't the threat here, but actually the means of striking a work-life balance. It seems, however, to be beneficial in one direction and detrimental in the other.

Meaning it is extremely helpful to pay bills online from your desk, to order groceries through a Web site that delivers them to your door and to coordinate via e-mail which parent will pick up the kids from school.

But what happens when the cell phone starts ringing in the middle of your daughter's play? And who wants to be on a trip with dad where he spends more time paying attention to his BlackBerry than a local guidebook?

Technology is helpful in maintaining a work-life balance while at the office, but actually detracts from our personal life once we walk out the door at 5 p.m.

As I mentioned before, the blurring of work and life isn't simply a phenomenon we will experience after graduation.

It is a reality we face everyday as students, whether it is due to our living situation or the technology on which we rely.

Professors often e-mail the day before a semester begins and prompt students to "get started on the first book." Likewise, I often receive e-mails over the weekend letting me know about another article that has been posted on Toolkit.

E-mail is not the only culprit here: Cell phones play an equally large role in keeping us tied to work.

Groups can call their members to an impromptu meeting to finish a project over the weekend, and student organizations also can reach their members for help after the weekly meeting.

Cell phones, often credited by AT&T commercials as bringing people together across the globe, can become a shackle around our ankle in an instant.

Have you ever left for the day and forgotten your cell phone? Admit that you felt disconnected, out of the loop and curious as to what calls you may have missed. Even the existence of a voicemail system couldn't ease your mind.

Maybe the repercussions of our technological bondage aren't so severe right now. In the course of a day, we only have ourselves or a couple of roommates to worry about.

But what happens 10 years down the road when we owe our time to a spouse and children? Will you be a mom who has to take a business call in the middle of the family's dinner?

Or will you be like Robin Williams in "Hook," who misses his son's baseball game because he was on his cell phone?

But, then again, there's always video conferencing for life's most important moments, right?

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