The last time I wrote, I was saying goodbye to an HR consulting firm. Before starting my new job in corporate HR, I took a three-week break. Not working meant no name cards, no title and, lastly, no BlackBerry. I enjoyed the luxury of shopping in the middle of the day, scheduling long social lunches, not waking up to an alarm clock and travelling midweek instead of the weekend. One thing I didn't appreciate was feeling so out of touch. I didn't realise until I was on my break how much of my life was supported by my BlackBerry.
In my previous job, I had a company-issued BlackBerry. It was so useful. I cleared out my e-mails on the way to and back from work, and I replied to messages during business trips without having to boot up a computer. I had an extensive address book, an ongoing to-do list and details of business and social meetings in the calendar function. My life was neatly organised in my handheld device.
After returning it, I felt so lost. I had to rely on my memory to remember who I was meeting, when and where. It also took too long booting up my personal computer to check e-mail, When I was outside I didn't know whether someone had responded to an e-mail or not. I tried text messaging, but it wasn't the same. I coped by writing appointment details and errands on post-it notes. I found myself apologising for taking more than 24 hours to respond to e-mails. It felt like being in the wilderness.
If this sounds like I need to get a life, let's not blame the gadgets. I enjoy having a mobile e-mail device with an organiser function. How I use the technology and if I use it is my choice. There were plenty of times on vacation when I switched off the e-mail, calendar and the mobile phone. It was great being out of touch and out of sight.
There is a time to stay connected and a time to switch it all off. In my opinion the lack of work-life balance comes more from an inability to say 'no' to technology.
I find mobile communication devices helpful. Technology is there to support our lives, not run it. I like staying connected, and now that I'm working, it feels good to have a BlackBerry again.
Ji-Ye Hwang is the human resources director of a multinational insurance company in Hong Kong.