There’s been plenty of recent research about how our obsession with devices is literally re-wiring our brains, how much longer our work day has become because Crackberries and iPhones allow our work to follow us everywhere. But those of us in publishing, especially on the digital side, often feel that their jobs are, by definition, a 24/7 endeavor, or need to be for us to stay “on top of things.” Print books sleep, but blogs and Twitter and Pintarest are hungry media.
After many years in print production, I find the new requirements of tweeting to be shocking in their always-on-ness. How do you run your day when your work interrupts itself? I have sticky notes on my computer telling me to make sure to check my desk phone for the message light (“what’s this ‘desk phone’ this geezer mentions?”), not to overfill my daily to-do list, and not to let interruptions keep me from getting any work done at all? But interruptions are the essence of the new publishing, and in fact any digital product which doesn’t have that sense of “link-ness” is liable to be thought of, if I may be a little 2007 about it, lame.
And yet going back to the Luddite frontier is a non-starter. It’s not just that I’ve seen enough of digital publishing projects to want that speed to be a part of my work, too. It’s that, well, without digital, institutional print publishing is a silo on a rapidly arid landscape.
Given. But, is the communicative style of social media a given in the digital world? I don’t want to be a curmudgeon–really, I don’t. Twitter has been invaluable in widening my collegial network. I’ve tried using Outlook to give me a once a day “Tweetbreak” reminder, a once a day “blog” reminder, and more reminders than I care to count. Eventually, you run out of digital fingers around which to wrap virtual rubber bands.
The other problem is granularity–how minutely can we divide our day to break our large projects into many small tasks? If the project itself is blogging or tweeting, how do we see the forest through our 140-character trees? For those of us coming out of print, where a book project can take a year or two, how do maintain a focus on such small portions of our day? A bad day isn’t one where I spend seven hours doing InDesign corrections for one book; it’s where I spend 20 minutes each on a series of 21 different projects. That’s hell.
Sure, we’ve all benefited from the boss able to answer important questions because of Blackberry (and, vice versa, pester us/order us around). And yet, I walked into our Digital Media department for a 9 am meeting and saw four different young staffers at their computers, texting furiously on their phones. Work, or work-ish work?
Maybe the problem is that my job is too split between slow-cooking books, medium-boiling memos, and microwave-speed tweets and digital-firefighting. Do we need to do a better job defining our jobs? Or perhaps let how to put down the phone for a set period of time? Do we need no-device buddies to get us to single-task for at least a few hours a day? Or are these simply the times we’re in, and the Matrix has come up with new ways to increase heat production from their human crops?
As always, the answer starts with an awareness of how we’re working and why we’re working that way. Then comes the hard part, convincing our managers and institutions (and perhaps most difficult, ourselves) that only machines are always on. At a recent meeting, no one could believe that I, supposedly the tech guru of my print department, doesn’t have an iPhone. I mean, they were gobsmacked. (I told them I was waiting for a contract-less iPhone, which only seemed to make their incredulity worse.) What’s the problem here–that they were judging me, or that I was proud of confounding their expectations?
I know that digital and technology will win this battle. I just hope that we do, too.