Checking your Facebook is more harmful than checking work e-mail
In 2014, an initiative in France shocked the world: real, tangible restrictions on the times when employees could check their work email. Due to stereotypes about the French, not all of which are incorrect, the story got blown way out of proportion, with newspapers in America and Britain reporting that France had banned work emails after 6 p.m. The reason the story exploded is obvious: We are all feeling the breakdown of the divide between work and home, between labor and rest. Our lives are becoming one frequently interrupted meeting. Our kitchens are just offsite work stations. We send notes to our bosses in bed. Vacations are just less work now, not the absence of work. The French blamed late-night email, but a new report today from the Pew Research Center provides a different, and far more nefarious, culprit: Big Blue.
Yes, Facebook is allegedly the force that it is going to demolish any last divisions between work and what we used to call life.
The report begins with a lot of stuff you already know but is now handily backed up by numbers. Guess what? People use Facebook at work. Guess what else? They use it to relax. According to Pew, "34 percent use social media while at work to take a mental break from their job" and "27 percent to connect with friends and family." But, intriguingly, social media usage isn't all slacking off. Twenty-four percent use Facebook "to make or support professional connections" and "20 percent to get information that helps them solve problems at work." A significant number, 17 percent, also use social media to learn about their coworkers or to build relationships with them.
So, obviously, first lesson here, don't put anything on Facebook that you don't want the people you work with to know. Seventeen percent of them are looking.
With work email, at least you know whether the person you are writing to is a coworker or a friend. Not so much with Facebook
Social media is, first and foremost, a great way to look like you're at your desk doing what you're being paid for while actually looking at your ex smiling over a bowl of purple kale in some Armenian yurt or whatever. As Pew points out, employers can do very little about the integration of social media into the daily workflow. Rules may exist, but they have a negligible effect on what employees do. A given company may or may not have a social media usage policy but, "fully 77 percent of workers report using social media regardless of whether their employer has such a policy in place."
The author of the report, Kenneth Olmsted, states the obvious conclusion of his findings. "In effect, social media has made the once solid boundary between work and leisure a lot more permeable." I don't know about you, but it already felt pretty goddamn permeable to me. And the line is only going to blur more. With work email, at least you know whether the person you are writing to is a coworker or a friend. Not so much with Facebook.
So the obvious question is: "How bad is this?" On one hand, the amount of work that earning a living currently demands is only set to get more ferocious. When you check Facebook, you are checking your whole social network, which includes not only family but friends and coworkers and employers and potential employers. The game of self-presentation this demands admits no compartmentalization. On the other hand, Facebook offers the constant possibility of reprieve. We are in a permanent state of work with an equally permanent possibility of escape. Is it a dream or a nightmare?
Either way, we are entering a new era of work, one in which you rest at work and work at rest, and it's just your life. It is practically impossible to imagine how we escape this fate. What kind of protections can you be offered from your own social life? The French unions can prevent bosses and workers from checking their work email, but how can they stop them from checking Facebook?
On Facebook, there is no work, and there is no home. There is only you. Get used to it.