Leash of life

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am

'Searching ...' a message on my mobile phone screen assures me. After an eternity my mobile lamely gives up, proving the proverb 'Seek and ye shall find' doesn't necessarily apply. 'No network found,' it says.

Stupid phone. I could have told it to forgo its quest since, here on holiday in Patong, I haven't activated global roaming because a) I'm too tight to pay the fee and b) not receiving calls, texts and voicemails feels like a blessing. If I relent and cough up, I will be tethered to an 'e-leash' - the invisible new economy chain that binds workers to their business associates and efficiency-fixated bosses wherever they are in the world.

The horror of e-leash culture hit home the other night when a salesman friend told me he had passed up the offer of a free business BlackBerry. Explaining why, he mimed staring at an imaginary screen just above his two frantically twiddling thumbs.

The B-word, as in 'BlackBerry on the beach', has become a byword for the e-leash and the sense of captivity that total connectedness implies. But a host of other gadgets and programs that make it hard to escape deserve the rap too. If you leave it on all the time, Skype, for instance, can make you dreadfully accessible.

As a result, we are arriving at the point where we are all on-call. You can't truly say you're off-duty when, slap in the middle of your holiday, a business e-mail or remote-access voice mail demands you chase up information on some niggling project. Gritting your teeth, you make excuses for walking away from your friends, who feel sorry for you until their turn comes.

It always does. A beleaguered tech-giant drone I know recently researched an article on 'work-life balance' only to discover it was a contradiction in terms. 'Nobody has it,' he said.

The strangulating effect of the e-leash may prompt enervation and ultimately deprive a business of the success it seeks. Resistance to the electronic ligature, which recalls the 'mind-forged manacles' described by visionary English poet William Blake, is sorely needed. And it exists in the shape of a website cryptically named, which hinges on sarcasm. If you want to be accountable to anyone anywhere around the clock, the E-leash - pictured as a primitive mobile phone - is just the ticket, the website says. Buy one, activate an account and experience the wonder of absolute servitude, the argument goes.

'You won't be able to go anywhere without your E-Leash? and you will annoy and enrage hundreds of people a day as it rings and beeps and plays music during the most inconvenient times.

Use it in restaurants, bars, movie theatres, libraries, buses and even during important business meetings,' the spiel continues.

The dismal trend has three causes. The first is workaholism: we have come to confuse not having

a life - being busy - with success. The second is vanity - we think we must stay in touch because we

are indispensable; the company's fortunes will plummet unless we keep up our superhuman contribution. The third is many of us are new-economy serfs with minimal rights. If lucky enough to be formally employed, we can be sacked in a blip - by text message.

So you become a slave to your mobile phone or laptop. With the rise of WiMax it looks likely that even the wilderness will eventually offer wireless access (log on while you sit on a log). The result may be more convenience, less freedom and less wonder in an increasingly fired-up, burned-out world.