I did a spring cleaning of my office last night. Over the past few months project folders had become disorganized, papers hadn’t been filed, receipts and vouchers were unlabeled. As a result, it was getting harder to find things, work was being duplicated or lost, and there was entirely too much time spent searching rather than doing.
So I laid into the task in late afternoon, wrapped up about midnight. The result feels great: more space, better organization, lots shipped to the recycle bin.
My office is my computer, supplemented by a date book, a receipt boo, and a notes-book. So, to outward appearances, I was simply, obsessively, ‘on the computer’ from mid-afternoon until well past a reasonable bedtime. This prompts comments about how I was isolated and immersed in unreality for far too long, both an unhealthy and asocial practice.
Yet if someone saw me doing identical tasks, filing, binning, and annotating the clutter of a messy physical office, the result would be laudable. What’s different about the computer? I have three theories:
There is a ‘”Theory X” bias in people’s thinking (McGregor), seeing people as inherently lazy and tending to avoid work if they can.
Computer time equates to time spent on games and social networks, frivolous pursuits akin to watching television or chatting on the phone.
But the computer is a wonderful tool for learning new topics, for exploring ideas, and for creating original work. It connects to knowledge, experts, and resources. I spend 15 minutes updating Facebook status each day: I spend an hour listening to a lecture on consciousness or learning the Ruby language. I don’t see the time as wasted or asocial: it’s working or enriching for the most part.
I’m not sure how (or whether) to justify time spent on the computer as real or productive. I used to have the same problem with reading: my mother forever accused me of “going through life with my nose in a book”. Maybe this is just the updated version? Harmless.
Still, I am a bit haunted by The Social Network: Mark intense, unsmiling, hammering keys late into the night. ‘Not a good archetype for me to reflect on, either.