E-nuff Already!

We all want to enjoy the benefits of the internet, but the disadvantages are getting harder to avoid.

By Jeffrey Cole

No one wants to give up the internet. Globally, about two percent of users drop off the web every year, and the Center’s work shows they return very quickly. For those who have gotten used to it, the internet is an essential part of everyday life.

But we are tired of the internet defining our lives. We want to take advantage of all the extraordinary things the web brings to our lives without having to deal with all the negatives surrounding its use. In short, we want to take control of our use of the internet rather than having it control us.

We have given a name to this phenomenon: E-Nuff Already, and there are many examples of people trying to take charge of the web and asserting E-Nuff Already.

Email: Many of us, myself included, feel overwhelmed by the ever-increasing amount of email in our lives. We never seem to be able to catch up. I am someone who cannot go to sleep until I answer all my email. Here’s what happens when I answer all my mail before bed: when I wake up, damn — everyone has answered me.

We learn quickly: send email and you get email in return. It’s a never-ending process, and it feels impossible to get ahead. We are like rats on a wheel in a cage: we never catch up.

What we’ve seen recently is users training their friends and associates not to expect immediate responses. (This is an even bigger problem in texting and social media). More and more people are answering non-essential work or personal email in a matter of a day or two rather than immediately. We are taking control.

Work productivity: From year one of our Surveying the Digital Future project (2000), we have seen consistent results when people who use the internet at work are asked: does the Internet make you more or less productive or does it make no difference? Seventy percent of workers say it has made them more productive, five percent say it has made them less productive, and 25 percent say it has made no difference. The only change over the past 17 years has been the huge increase in the number of people using the internet at work.

Clearly, the internet has made a great difference helping us become more productive at work, but that benefit comes with a price. Now, we are taking our work home and working on Saturday mornings and Sunday nights and on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve. The line between work and home has completely blurred. While many employers generously offer their teams smartphones, the employers also use those phones as umbilical cords to send emails or make calls at all hours of the day or night, and they expect quick responses. Of course we are more productive, but we are also workng harder than ever.

Now, employees (who can) are saying E-Nuff Already as they look for balance between their work and home lives. Many are now turning their work phones off when they leave the office and turning on their personal phones. More and more European companies can no longer contact their employees after hours unless they pay overtime. In the U.S., companies are establishing rules for after-office contact. Once again, we want to enjoy the advantages of all this technology without experiencing all the disadvantages.

Devices: Recently, on an overseas trip, I was embarrassed to realize that I was packing eight power cords for my various devices (two phones, a laptop, an iPad, camera, electric tooth brush, blue-tooth ear phones and an external battery). The problem was not unnecessary power cords: instead, all the devices were important, there were just too many of them.

But we are tired of the internet defining our lives. We want to take advantage of all the extraordinary things the web brings to our lives without having to deal with all the negatives surrounding its use. In short, we want to take control of our use of the internet rather than having it control us.

A year ago, one of my friends sent his 16-year-old daughter to London on a school trip. She stayed in older, less expensive hotels, three to a room. When these girls got to their room they discovered, to their horror, that there were two electric outlets in the entire room. There were three girls and 19 devices that had to be plugged in. In addition to the devices mentioned above, there were three hairdryers, although in fairness they didn’t have to be charged.

The three of them crafted a plan for one girl to get up every 90 minutes throughout the night and put new devices into the plugs. The problem is that many devices need much more than 90 minutes to charge. As a device was being unplugged, one of the girls would scream, “Wait, it’s not charged yet!” It was like Lord of the Flies in that room!

Being off the grid: After Hurricane Sandy, much of Southern Manhattan was without power for four days while those in Northern Manhattan got their power back quickly. For those without power, their biggest concern was not being in the dark at night or the food rotting in their refrigerators, but rather being unable to charge their devices. This was in October. Had it had been February, they would have had much more serious concerns. Those in the northern part of the city put power strips in front of their building so those from the south could charge their devices. Many stayed in front of these building for four hours to get a full charge.

Today, one of the ultimate signs of power is being able to disconnect from the grid without worry, knowing that people will be there waiting for you when you return.

Many of us are terrified by how quickly we have become dependent upon a technology that didn’t exist (for most of us) 15 years ago. We fully understand the wonderful ways it has enhanced our lives. We are looking for ways to maximize the great advantages and minimize the equally great disadvantages.

E-Nuff Already!


Jeffrey Cole is the director of The Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.



See all columns from the Center.

November 16, 2017