A few weeks ago, social media and other sites blew up with the news that France had banned working after 6:00 p.m. Well, at least sending work emails after that time.
Here in the U.S., we rejoiced for the French and silently hoped that our very own country would follow suit.
It turned out that, in fact, the French did not make it illegal to send work emails after 6:00. Apparently, according to the Washington Post, the buzz stemmed from “an agreement made between labor unions and a federation of engineering and consulting companies, affecting 250,000 people and involving no official laws.”
It was like a bad game of Telephone via the World Wide Web. By the time it made its rounds, the real story had turned into something completely, well, wrong.
tel-e-phone [tel-uh-fohn]: the party game where a phrase is whispered down a line of players, with the goal of that phrase coming out the same by the end. Which, of course, never happens. “John and Amy are having a baby!” turns into “Don and Amy are going to Vegas!” Amy, I don't know who the heck Don is, but if he knocks you up, for the love of all that is sacred, please don't bring your screaming, crying child to Vegas.
So, no. The City of Lights did NOT decide to turn its lights off at 6:00 p.m. so that all French people could go home and watch Game of Thrones.
Besides, if it had been true, what about all the service industry folks? Why shouldn’t they be considered just as hard working as those business professionals and be able to shut down at 6:00? They might even be more physically, emotionally and mentally taxed than those in suits... I mean, have you ever had to deal with a rude American tourist?
It was a good thought, though, and for one fleeting moment, many of us were excited about the possibility of change. What if we didn’t have to be connected to our phones, email, laptops, tablets ALL THE TIME?
The point is that everyone – no matter how hard you work, or what sort of position you hold – needs to tune out, disconnect, unplug, unwind... just turn the darn things OFF once in a while.
It’s not easy. I go into full-on panic mode if I leave my phone at home by mistake, even if I’m only going to be gone for an hour. I check emails at 3:00 a.m. to make sure the RadioMD newsletter has gone out without a hitch at 6:00 a.m. on the East Coast. I can be on the phone, emailing and doing other work AND texting my husband all at the same time (certainly not on work conference calls, of course). I used to be able to unplug when I hopped on an airplane. But with WiFi available on many flights, that “escape” now escapes me.
Last October, I dropped my phone into the hole that is to be the new basement at my MN house. It was irretrievable. What followed was an extreme overreaction, yes: I went inside, curled up into a ball and cried like I’d just lost my best friend. Now, part of this sense of “loss” was due to the fact that I was worried about my photos (two words, people: the Cloud). But I was also genuinely scared of being disconnected from everything.
Fortunately, I had another phone that I could at least use to call someone in case of an emergency. And, I had my laptop so I could post on Facebook that I’d lost my phone and to contact me at the alternative number. AND, I could also email my bosses to let them know that no, I hadn’t disappeared from the face of the earth.
But still... this is NOT healthy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say technology is the devil and that we would all be better off if Steve Jobs went in another direction. I love technology. I think it makes our lives easier and more comfortable. I also think it makes us better equipped to deal with the pace of life as it is. And even though it can be very impersonal, I have had extremely personal and enlightening conversations on Facebook and via text.
But, we must all learn balance. I need quality sleep, therefore I should not be checking emails at all hours of the night. I need to hear my mom’s voice, therefore I need to stop bugging her to learn how to text better and just pick up the damn phone. I need to spend as much quality time as I can with my hubby in the 5-7 days I see him each month, therefore we BOTH need to put down the devices (Joe, are you reading this?).
We need face-to-face interaction, not just FaceTime interaction.
If the government doesn’t make it law (which, obviously, they won’t), then why don’t you make it your own law? Set aside time each day when you put your devices away and instead appreciate the sights, sounds, smells and touch of things around you... I promise you, you won’t shrivel up and die.
I recently took a half-day off work to celebrate my friend’s birthday at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Keep in mind, I can’t remember the last time I rode a rollercoaster, and I have never ridden one as big or scary as the ones at Six Flags. But I’m (slowly) learning the importance of human interaction and spending time with my friends. That day, I screamed my head off, got soaking wet on Roaring Rapids, almost cried before getting on X2, almost puked after riding Batman BACKWARDS, and I laughed. A lot.
It’s one of my favorite memories to date. And guess what? I didn’t miss my phone one bit.
Dewey, Caitlin. "France Didn’t Ban People from Checking Work E-mail after 6. This Is Why It Should Have." WashingtonPost.com. Washington Post, 11 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.