A Professor Urges You to Celebrate 'Rewire Your Life Day'

March 10, 2008

What are you doing at your computer? A professor who studies the balance between work and life has declared today a holiday from precisely that constant electronic communication.

That’s right, this is “Rewire Your Life Day,” says Ellen Ernst Kossek, a professor of human-resource management and organizational behavior at Michigan State University. She’s not checking e-mail today. Her cellphone is switched off. And she went out to lunch with a colleague from another department who, until today, she’d known only via electronic correspondence.

She did, however, pick up her office telephone this afternoon. “It’s a symbol,” she says, when asked whether talking on the phone violates the premise of her newly declared holiday. In other words, it’s pretty much impossible to be completely off the grid on a workday. But perhaps people can do better at not jumping around so much among communication channels for just one day a year.

“I’m worried that nobody will do it a whole day,” says Ms. Kossek, noting that she’s thinking of calling for an “Unplugged Hour” next time. Meanwhile, she’s open to other names for the holiday at hand: Maybe “Unplugged Day”? What about “Face-to-Face Day”?

“I’d like people across the country to think of what we can do across campuses” to popularize the choice of one day a year to take some kind of digital reprieve, she says.

Will one day off really matter in this hectic life? “I’ve done a lot of research on recovery — it’s important to have vacations and downtime,” says Ms. Kossek. “You come back to work, and you’re more refreshed.”

She doesn’t sound refreshed herself, though. She sounds nervous about all the e-mail and cellphone calls she’s missing. “I’m going to try to stay off until tomorrow morning, I don’t know if I can make it,” she says. “Maybe I should have put an ‘away’ message: ‘I’m not checking my e-mail today.’”

Asked whether that undermines her own holiday, she says such pressure is part of the point: “It’s an issues for campuses — the pace with which you’re expected to respond to an e-mail from students. We need to have new social rules for how to communicate.” —Jeffrey R. Young