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Is Your Constant Busyness a Reflection of New Media?

LOG OFF writer, Sophie Wolge, speaks on the ways in which social media perpetuates habitual busyness, and how to unplug from this mindset.

If you are guilty of constantly answering the question “how are you?” with “busy”, this article might be for you.

Being busy today is not an exception--it is a way of living. Frantically, it seems, every bit of time is filled--scheduled--with something, anything. Work, yoga class, dinner with friends, studying part-time, learning a new language, a doctors appointment, just replying to this one email, etc. This article sheds light on why this might be more connected with developments in technology than you would have guessed.

Does an always-on device = an always-on society?

While appearing busy might be helpful in gaining higher societal status--as a person who is busy after all, must be important--the busyness of the 21st century seems to exceed previous busyness levels and creates a spiral of pressure resulting in people always appearing to be doing something.

This always-on society goes hand-in-hand with the development of the always-on device, or new media.

New media is all around us, always-on, ubiquitous. It changed and changes our life in a way that is still trying to be understood by science, as never before has technology been so interwoven with our lives.

Mark Deuze, Professor of Media Studies even goes as far as saying that we are no longer living with the media, we are living in the media.“We are living a media life”.

Largely due to the rise of smartphones and the internet, ubiquitous media is characterised by being flexible, multimodal, and interconnected.

Interestingly, these three characteristics also can be found in recent developments in the work place :

Flexibility -

The possibilities of work have drastically changed since the introduction of ubiquitous media.

A few decades ago if someone left the office, that was it--work was over. Now, people leave work and still check their emails several times before going to bed.

People can work flexibly from anywhere, anytime--this is possible only due to ubiquitous media, and results in an unprecedented way of working.

Even if the nomadic lifestyle is sometimes sold to us as “the dream”, it has its downsides.

Not having clear boundaries between work and leisure time can result in never taking a real break--sure, how much energy does it cost to send just one more e-mail? But, always just doing this tiny bit extra results in constant stress that can lead to full-on burnout. Having real breaks away from work is important to recharge.

Multi-modality -

The way we work has changed and is constantly undergoing change--within recent developments, there is a trend among workers, especially in the media and creative industries, of people despecialising and becoming increasingly multimodal.

While previously, people had either a career as a cinematographer, actor or writer, today many jobs expect people to be able to switch from being a videographer to being a writer to being a performer.

While it can be nice to have broader responsibilities at work, this requirement for a broader skill set ultimately results in a higher amount of pressure amongst the workforce--going back to our example of the media industry, to land an entry-level job today you will need to be able to handle a camera, write, edit, present, project manage, know all social media channels inside out, be proficient in Photoshop, and more.

With these requirements, it’s almost inevitable to be busy and constantly stuck in a cycle of self optimisation, disguised as “employability”. As Frayne writes:

“Employability bec