Of all the controversial topics out there, this one (though seemingly of little consequence) could be impacting your life far more than you think: Should you check your work email outside of work?
One caveat: not everyone works the typical nine to five office job, so those who do not may feel that this topic is irrelevant. Hear me: it’s not irrelevant. It may appear that I am painting with a very broad brush, but stick with me.
The underlying principals as to how you engage technology apply across the board regardless of how, where, and even whether you work a job.
For those checking work email after leaving the office or outside of officially clocked hours, it may not seem like a very big deal. “It’s just a few minutes,” right?
Checking work email after hours may even seem necessary—”What if so-and-so sent me something I should see before I get to the office tomorrow?”
The access allowed us by recent technological developments can be a blessing as well as a curse.
While checking a work email in the evening may truly have a valid justification from time to time, checking work email outside of work has become far more of a habit than we realize.
But, as is often the case with very specific issues, there is more to the picture than merely checking work email. This is part of a much larger conversation regarding how we use (or are used by) technology.
Who Is in Control? – Social Commentary Set to Music
Brooke Fraser, whose unmistakable voice may be recognized in many a Hillsong recording, is also a solo artist with four albums produced since 2003.
While her work with Hillsong is explicitly “Christian” in its content and jargon, like Sufjan Stevens, her faith impacts the creativity and depth of her solo works, and she draws an audience that is not uniquely Christian.
One of the songs on Fraser’s most recent album, Brutal Romantic, is essentially a social commentary of technology’s increasing control over our lives in this digital age.
The song, “Magical Machine,” personifies technology, satirically placing it in the role of a very close friend, perhaps even a lover. There is so much that we have gained from technology, which Fraser certainly notes, but she astutely presents such leaps and bounds in light of the danger of being controlled by it.
Here is a taste of her lyrics:
I’m your telescope, help you see other worlds up close/I’m your submarine, you’ll explore where you’ve never been/I’m your ticking clock, hold my hands and the time will stop/I’m your megaphone, turn the world till your neighbors moan.
Power me on, light on demand/I’m your Magical Machine,we can dream digital dreams./Power me on, control and command/I’m your Magical Machine, I’ll be yours if you let me.
In her song Fraser keenly (though subtly) reveals the underlying threat of technology. Although it enables us to “explore where [we]’ve never been”—essentially expanding our horizons both figuratively and literally—she hits the mark in her prophetic “forth-telling” of how technology is slowly commandeering the culture (and us by extension).
The hopeful phrase in the midst of Fraser’s social commentary is the conditional ending to her chorus: “I’ll be yours if you let me.”
This serves as a poignant reminder that it truly is up to us—the creators, designers, and stewards of technology—to set the limits as to how much sway our gadgets and programs will hold in our day-to-day lives.
Boundaries – What Do You Really Want?
I urge you to take some time to consider this question: How much sway does technology hold in your life?
Sometimes, without even realizing it, email, text messages, and social media begin to strip away the time and energy that could be spent on the individual people and the potential pursuits right in front of you.
The excuse of “increasing productivity” by “getting more done” outside of the office keeps us away from authentic experiences of living life to the fullest here and now. Don’t fall into this trap. After-hours monitoring of work emails robs the “off” time of its distinct savor.
We are too busy seizing our smartphones to truly Carpe diem. We clutch technology instead of holding fast the precious moments passing before our very eyes.
So, what do you really want?
Are you longing for depth and growth in relationships as well as success in the workplace? Set down your phone long enough to have a meaningful conversation with your neighbor, your spouse, your child.
Are you desiring to develop a hobby that is life giving and also brings you deeper into worship of your Savior? Stop checking your email and give the present moment your full attention. (Resist the temptation to check something you are not responsible for until tomorrow anyway).
With all of society’s technological developments, it is important to define boundaries. It is far too easy to be controlled by our devices as opposed to actively and intentionally stewarding our use of them.
For all of us—whether working in an office, working from home, or clocking atypical hours—how we engage technology is an imperative question to address with careful, honest consideration. Technology is something to steward, not something that should rule.
Although I cannot prescribe any person a particular limit—and I cannot answer whether or not you in particular should check work email at home—I strongly encourage we all set some personal boundaries.
Stay off your work email this evening—moreover, give it a try for a week. You may be surprised by how sweet freedom tastes.