by David Rosenbaum

The Evil of 24/7

Dec 15, 20063 mins

Many of the responses to my November 30 blog (“Please Stop Playing With Yourself”) about the rudeness of people checking their BlackBerries and such during meetings, presentations and even lunches and dinners, defended the practice by alluding to the expectation that people have to (they just have to!) multi-task and that, as Larry wrote, “Whoever said IT is less than a 24/7 job is probably not doing a good job.”

Sorry, Larry.

Whoever says theirs is a 24/7 job is probably doing a terrible job.

First of all, aren’t we all sick of the phrase 24/7, not to mention the concept? It’s empty hyperbole. It makes no sense. Everyone sleeps and according to the best sources, the whole universe was created on a 24/6 schedule, not 24/7.

Creating the universe. Now that was a job of work. Coming up with elephants and lice, fire and ice—that was multi-tasking.

But 24/7 is even more pernicious than ridiculous.

The fact is, many people feel they should be working 24/7, they feel the heavy hand of their boss’s expectation that they will be available and working 24/7, and because Americans—and especially people working in technology—are such goody-two-shoes, such coffee achievers, they try to meet those expectations. And the result, along with the burgeoning problem of BlackBerry/laptop/cell phone addiction, is an epidemic of misery not usually seen outside of traffic courts and law offices.

And what does all this misery produce? More misery, in an awful, diabolic feedback loop. It produces oppressive corporate cultures, bad management practices, and a staggering amount of effort that only occasionally (and for the most part, accidentally) generates anything of value. It certainly doesn’t translate into work.

Checking email, for example, is not work. (For a few choice thoughts on the email nightmare, check out a story I wrote a while back, “Email vs. Smoke Signals.”)  If you remember your high school physics, in order for something to qualify as work, force needs to be applied and that force must cause something to happen, something you intend to happen—something beyond emptying your inbox or adding to someone else’s.

How much of the fiddling that goes on with BlackBerries and their ilk, how many urgent cell phone chats, how many meetings, actually lead to anything tangible, even forgetting whether the product is good, bad or indifferent?

And when effort is not rewarded with results, unhappiness ensues.

Work is a good thing. It makes people feel good. But effort that does not result in work has the opposite effect. If effort doesn’t produce anything, if it doesn’t cause anything productive to happen, it’s mere busyness, not business.  

And there’s a lot of it going around.

Can I get an Amen from the choir?

Or are you too busy, checking your email in the still of your 24/7 night?