Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Work-Life Balance

Economist Cover

There is an interesting article in the 2006 Holiday issue of The Economist that covers ASU's technology alliance strategy. It uses ASU's embracing of Google Apps for Education and Apple's itunes University as examples of how "consumer technologies are invading corporate computing". The article has an unusual title, "Work-Life Balance", describing not the usual balance we all must strike between work and family, but instead the balance that companies must now strike between their use of consumer technologies and more specialized "business-grade" technologies.

As technology becomes increasingly central to daily life, consumer technologies, produced for wider markets at greater revenue and profit, can quickly outstrip more specialized technologies, even when those specialized technologies started out in the lead. There are lots of examples of this phenomenon in technology: the way video games commoditized and dramatically accelerated the development of 3D graphics technology particularly for personal computers; the way the military and intelligence establishment embraced private sector information technology because of its superior pace of innovation.

As the Economist article points out, in the web space "as everything else migrates to web-based services, software will increasingly resemble the web technologies of the consumer market".

Nice to see that ASU is not alone in thinking that strategic technology alliance is a significant trend whose time has come.

On a personal note, the "Work-Life Balance" title was especially ironic for me, since I did the interview for it over a cell phone from the waiting room of the hospital where my oldest son was in surgery to get his broken nose repaired.

While I understand that this is probably not everyone's idea of a healthy work-life balance :), it works for me. I know that a lot of people feel that laptops, crackberries, wireless networks and cell phones all work like electronic tethers, keeping people tied to work 24/7. I can see that point of view, but for me these personal technologies mean flexibility and substantially less worry.

I spend less time than I would in the office, because I know that apart from meeting with people face-to-face, there's nothing I can't do remotely. I take more hikes because my Blackberry lets me monitor my mail while I'm out in South Mountain Park. I worry less because I know if a crisis or an opportunity emerges, I can be ready to respond no matter where I am.

So when the author of the Economist article's window of opportunity coincided with an important moment for me as a dad, I didn't have to choose between being a responsible dad or getting good press for my school. Technology allowed me to juggle both responsibilities, letting me get more out of that day than I would have been able to otherwise.

That's my work/life balance story and I'm sticking to it...


Lance Parsons,  January 18, 2007 at 8:09 AM  

Congratulations on the Economist article. The pairing with Apple and Google is certainly giving ASU some good press.

Work-life balance is a personal thing. There is no doubt that a Blackberry or other mobile device can provide freedom. However, an often difficult part of work-life balance is in balancing the mind. Those devices make it more difficult to focus on one activity at a time, and thus, for some people, can make work-life balance harder to achieve. If one is concerned about work 24/7, then those devices make it easier for one to stay on top of things 24/7 and thus can reduce stress. For those that do like to disconnect, however, they make that disconnection more difficult. After all, multitasking isn't good for you: http://time.blogs.com/daily_rx/2006/07/public_release_.html

For another perspective, I particularly liked the essay 'A day without cell phones' by Tyler Thompson in the State Press today: http://www.asuwebdevil.com/issues/2007/01/18/opinions/699279.