Food for Thought – Time to Disconnect?
Copied from ENISA Quarterly Review Vol. 4, No. 2, Apr-Jun 2008
by Nick Coleman and Pernilla Skantze
It seems widely accepted today that we should regularly check SMS and e-mail on our mobile devices during most meetings. The best situation is when there is wireless broadband access in a meeting room, as we can then do our ‘real’ work (i.e. checking e-mail) while attending the meetings or conferences that for some reason we do not consider demand the same level of attention as e-mail.
Wireless broadband solutions and fixed-mobile functions make it easy to be connected even when we are on vacation, regardless of whether we spend our holidays on a mountain top in the Alps or on a distant beach. When we go for lunch or leave work we can still answer the numerous messages from a person with phone – and we do. Many people say that it takes them several days of vacation to control the urge to check their e-mail. It’s a bit like giving up cigarettes. Only worse…
At the same time, parents all over the world are fighting to tear their children away from their computers or games consoles to go out and play with their friends instead and to do ‘normal’ things that we used to do in the time before all children and teenagers had a computer on their desks.
Or is that really it? In a minor study carried out in the northern outskirts of Europe recently, a number of people were asked to refrain from mobile phone use for a couple of weeks. It turned out that, besides the fact that they had to plan their days much more rigorously, what they missed the most was the alarm clock, the radio function and the fact that they never knew
what time it was.
So the question is, is this healthy? Are we increasingly in an ‘always on’ culture, where we take our Blackberry, mobile phone or laptop with us over the weekend and on holiday as well? Another piece of research suggests taking the laptop on holiday means it may come back with new malware from children accessing sites with new security risks!
So should we all be disconnecting for the summer – throwing away our devices and switching off from work? In the new Sex and the City movie, the main character in the film, Carrie, throws her mobile phone into the sea.
This action of strong emotional distress only happens after she has received numerous messages from a person with whom she has fallen out, and probably many of us have felt the same urge at one control the urge to check their e-mail. It’s point or another. Especially nowadays, when we can’t slam the receiver down in anger any more – pressing “no” doesn’t really have the same effect.
Although many of us still remember a life without mobile devices, was it really any better? Or are all the scares about our dependency on new technology just reactionary, while our lives constantly improve?
And when we go abroad we know transport and hotel rooms can be arranged from a nice bar or beach, without spending time in endless queues. And adding all the other functions we need – camera, clock, wake-up call and music player – our advice to you would be – don’t forget your mobile phone this summer!
Pernilla Skantze (email@example.com) is a lawyer specialising in IT-related issues, working for the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise, Energy and Communications, and a member of the ENISA Management Board.
Nick Coleman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Head of Security Services for IBM across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, he is currently the Independent Reviewer of information assurance and security to the UK Government and is a member of ENISA’s Permanent Stakeholders’ Group.