(Photo: Global Times)
I remember the joy that went through my mind when I first created my email and made my first post on myspace. How the online landscape has changed! Now forget about writing letters or making a call, apps will do. Forget about keeping our lives to ourselves, one post allows your friends access to what you have seen, done and experienced. Technology has helped me track down long-lost friends and stay connected with the outside world. However, I lament not just the death of letter writing or face-to-face conversations, but also the grasp that I once had over my personal life. My inner space, a little bubble, does not wish to remain online.
We no longer have control or the right to remain offline. I'm not saying that I refuse to work or respond outside of work hours since a work-life balance is ridiculously hard to maintain. However, what I oppose is any work culture that credits those that are seemingly productive or in this case: always online.
Never mind it's 11 pm, once that red dot appears in your WeChat or something targets @ you in a WeChat group, you have to switch back on. Productivity is not measured by how responsive someone is online or whether he or she has posted at 1 am on a Saturday "Yes I'm still at my company - working." And for someone who values travel and holidays, what is worse is that even when you go on holidays to relax and temporarily lead another life, you are still constantly hassled online. When you do not reply, you feel guilty that you have not done enough despite it being your holiday. When you sleep early to maintain a functioning brain so you can fend off stressful situations the next day, you get seen as perhaps irresponsible for failing to be online or on WeChat or answer an email.
In the end, I question how productive work hours really are and whether it is beneficial to have online work take over when you go home. Most importantly, how little value others place on your own personal space or time and the explanations you feel you need to give.
China, like very much the rest of the world, is changing at a breakneck speed. People work hard, often too hard. People are online and expect to stay connected even though in order for employees to perform better, they need undisturbed time alone and apart. Our phone is no longer just a tool or something that we control, but a necessity that controls us and gives us no room to truly be alone, at peace, offline.
A walk in nature, traveling to a foreign city, having tea with oneself, even napping: These simple yet pleasurable activities, as far away from our phone as possible, give us that much needed recharge to keep on working.
One needs to be wise when selecting to remain online and be responsive to work. Surely, for a few weeks a year, we are all entitled to some offline, disconnected time.