Digital technologies – smart phones, email, social networking, etc. – are fundamentally changing our relationship with work. Digital technologies enable us to be always connected and allow us to work wherever and whenever we want. However, the question remains as to how digital technologies affect our work-life balance. Is always-on connectivity a good thing because it gives us freedom to work any time and any place? Or does it cause unnecessary stress because we can never switch off?
The Digital Brain Switch (DBS) project is studying the changing nature of work-life balance as a result of digital technologies. We are particularly interested in how people switch between different work-life roles – parent, spouse, friend, co-worker, manager, employee – and how digital technologies either support this or act as a barrier.
In the age of modern communications, we all switch between multiple different roles on a daily basis. And these switches can be very rapid – one minute, we might check in with our friends on Facebook; the next we switch to work email; a minute later we go to Twitter where we see both work- and leisure-related information. How do we manage these very rapid switches? Do these rapid switches cause problems that we find hard to deal with? Or have we achieved a seamless integration of work and life where our various roles can co-exist?
Over a period of 22 months, DBS is carrying out an in-depth study of these phenomena and is developing new tools to allow us to manage switching between different roles. Some example images from our pilot study are included below.