A study to study studies

A technology report on CNN.com cited a study which found that people who live by the cell phone (or pager, or other mobile personal communication equipment) find less life satisfaction because work and family issues tend to blur together. Dads taking work-related calls at home, moms taking home-related calls at work… all of these things are cutting into our personal time and our productivity.

I think the main thing this study proves is that we need to stop conducting studies until we find something worth looking at.

Could we not have guessed that making ourselves available 24-7 would cause stress? That allowing – nay, encouraging – clients from work to call us on our cell phones at home while watching “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo” with the children would cause resentment?

It seems to me – although I’m no sociologist – that this whole sorry effort could have been reduced to a happy little poll in USA Today: “Do you find that being available by cell phone has disrupted your home life?” Every single one of us would answer “yes,” and then we’d talk to our co-workers and family members and realize that they all answered yes too, and we’d instantly know the results of what turned into a two-year study.

And yet… and YET. Despite what we know – that mobile communications technology blurs the line between work and family, that we allow it to interrupt us at inappropriate moments (“here, cover yourself, I need to answer that…”), and that we get so damn mad when someone’s cell phone goes off in a movie theater, fancy restaurant, or funeral – despite knowing all this, we ensure that things will only get worse because we continue to buy the products, and encourage the R&D of new, faster, smaller, better mobile communication devices. Why? Because we can’t stand the thought of being disconnected.

That’s why we now have people walking around with those cellular headsets: so they can be instantly available to whoever wants them, day or night, without lifting a finger. It’s the perfect blend of convenience and effortlessness that prompted Zager and Evans to prophecy “arms hangling limp at your sides” in the year 5555.

As for the study, I will only say this: if I’m a social scientist and I’m sitting around wondering how to spend my research grant, I believe I have an obligation to at least pick something that doesn’t make the general population scream, “Well DUH!!”

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on my now-defunct blog, DMweblife.com in or around 2006. In re-posting here, I was unable to find the link to the original tech report on CNN.com. You’re just going to have to trust me that this was a real study.

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