Monday, March 12, 2012

The horrors of hyperconnectivity—and how to restore a degree of freedom

Slaves to the smartphone
Mar 10th 2012 | from the print edition

“THE SERVANT” (1963) is one of those films that it is impossible to forget—a merciless dissection of the relationship between a scheming valet (played by Dirk Bogarde) and his dissolute master (James Fox). The valet exploits his master’s weaknesses until he turns the tables: the story ends with a cringing Fox ministering to a lordly Bogarde. The film was an indictment of the class structure of Harold Macmillan’s Britain. But it is hard to watch it today without thinking of another fraught relationship—the one between businessfolk and their smartphones.

Smart devices are sometimes empowering. They put a world of information at our fingertips. They free people to work from home instead of squeezing onto a train with malodorous strangers. That is a huge boon for parents seeking flexible work hours. Smartphones and tablets can also promote efficiency by allowing people to get things done in spare moments that would otherwise be wasted, such as while queuing for coffee. They can even help slackers create the illusion that they are working around the clock, by programming their e-mail to be sent at 1am.

But for most people the servant has become the master.

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