The modern, mobile me : an exploration of smartphones, being always on, and our relationship with work in the United States
Davis, Jennifer Deering
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Experts estimate that by 2013, every adult in the world will own a mobile phone. Mobile technologies are one of the fastest growing and most widely adopted technologies in history. This study seeks to understand the impacts of an increasingly mobile culture in the United States, focusing on how being “always on” impacts individuals' relationships with work. Being always on refers to an individual’s propensity to remain continuously connected to the world through a web-enabled, mobile technology device, such as an iPhone or BlackBerry. Influenced by Clark's (2000) work-family border theory, I conducted 49 in-depth interviews, in order to develop a communicative model of being always on. The model is characterized by using new mobile technologies, needing to be connected, blurring boundaries between work and non-work spheres, identifying with work, working long hours, and having work-life balance. Being always on is linked to a strong work identity and desire for control over one's time. However, being constantly connected with a smartphone also means being more connected to work; it has become easier to work longer hours, have work leak into personal time, and slowly but ultimately lose control over the boundaries between work and non-work domains. Ironically, individuals who are always on in order to gain more control over their time may actually end up giving up more control than they gain. However, always-on individuals actually feel like they have an appropriate work-life balance, which complicates traditional understandings of the meaning of “balance.” Instead, these findings suggest always-on individuals actually “atomize,” a term that refers to the breaking down of communicative tasks into small pieces to can be completed anywhere, at any time, enabling flexibility and control.