Are We Too Connected? How Technology is Making People Forget the Importance of Boundaries

Technology has made us so connected; so connected and yet so often alone*. This hyper connectivity is linked to the number of ways that people can reach us so quickly; tagging our profiles on social media, telephone calls, text messages, social media direct messages (DMs), emails, video calls, voice messages, voice notes, WhatsApp messages even comments on blogs or sites not to mention that people still send letters and postcards through the post! Thank goodness that faxes are obsolete! What happens with this amount of choice of connection and variety of communication channels is that, in my opinion, people start to forget about boundaries and sometimes even manners.

Being in PR means that the very nature of my work requires me to be accessible and for some this means that I have to always be available. The impact of this is not only overwhelming but it can sometimes be stressful. In 2019 the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) published its annual State of the Profession report which found that nearly a quarter (23%) of PR professionals “say they have taken sickness absence from work on the grounds of stress, anxiety or depression”. I would hazard a guess that some of that is to do with the expectation to always be available or switched on. I think this happens across a variety of industries and it boils down to people feeling entitled to each others time and attention based on their own demands/requirements. I have had people email me, DM and leave comments on posts in the space of an hour just to get my attention or to let me know that they have sent an email. Even if I’m visibly online whether it’s updating a status or tweeting something that does not mean that unsolicited emails deserve an immediate answer. In fact the majority of professionals know how to manage their messages well, if we’re tied to our email inboxes or to our phones how can we get on with the act of doing the very work that pays our bills or activities that bring us joy.

So how do we balance things out?

It’s important to become self aware – don’t be a person that is constantly chasing someone for a response unless it is an emergency or a time sensitive enquiry and even then try to stick to just 2 forms of communication. An email and a call or text if you have a number. Also take a moment to think about whether your message or request is such an emergency that it needs to be chased so much or is it that you have not adequately planned for something and so its more of an emergency for you but not necessarily for the person that you are chasing.

Switching off is OK – on the flipside many of us are guilty of being hyper visible online (I know I can be) which is my choice and whilst my visibility is not a reason for people to assume that they are entitled to my attention or time. I make the conscious habit to switch off when I know it won’t impact the quality of my client work or just when my brain and mind needs a rest from the virtual world.

Mindfulness really does help – when you feel like you are being bombarded with messages or demands for your attention take a step back, breath and find the best coping mechanisms that will work for you. Seek professional help and advice if it is starting to become too much for you to deal with.

I hope that this post helps us all to think about how we use technology to stay connected and how we can use it to be more conscientious  communicators.

*According to the campaign to end loneliness, over 9 million people in the UK say they are always or very often lonely, but almost two thirds feel uncomfortable admitting to it (British Red Cross & Co-Op, 2016)

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