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tech-life balance also tech/life balance

noun [uncountable]

using technology in a way that doesn't have a negative effect on your personal life or relationships

'A few weeks earlier, we had been chatting as a family about our tech-life balance and seeing if we could have some non-screen time (NST) – albeit in units of hours rather than days. No screens before school, all mobiles on the landing at night, no calls at meal-times-type agreements. It was working – but could it work better?'

The Guardian 31st December 2011

In past generations the concept of free time was pretty limited for the man or woman on the street, who generally worked all hours to survive and put food on the family table. Throughout the 20th century however this was less and less the norm, as society advanced in a way that brought some degree of leisure time to the masses. Given some level of choice about how much and when we worked, we then began to struggle with the issue of achieving the right priorities – how to maintain and progress our working life whilst at the same time making the most of our personal one, a concept which became described as work-life balance. Into the 21st century, technology presents a further challenge: how do we square up work, interaction with 'real' people, and time spent communicating and interacting within the electronic universe? In other words, how do we arrive at a good and appropriate tech-life balance?

one way that some people set out to achieve tech-life balance … is through self-imposed boundaries, restricting the number of hours they allow themselves to touch a keypad or look at a screen

Tech-life balance is an expression that's now been adopted to describe the daily challenge facing all digital natives (people who've never known a world without mobiles, the Internet etc) and most digital immigrants (the rest of us, who've embraced the digital revolution but can remember the old days) – namely how to use technology to our advantage but not to the detriment of 'real' life. If you think about it, 'tech' can cover practically all of the bases that it was once necessary to leave the house for. Many of us no longer have to be in the office to continue working – we can send e-mails and take phone calls, write and submit reports, hold meetings … all from wherever we happen to be during the course of a day, making our working hours potentially limitless. And perhaps even more significantly, tech is supreme in our personal lives too – we can play games, watch movies and TV, catch up on the latest gossip, discuss, debate, socialize, do the weekly shop, buy a washing machine, plan a holiday … the list is endless, and all this whenever, wherever, and without ever having to come into contact with another real, touchable person. It's observation of this conundrum – how to balance electronic communication against real, physical interaction so that we're still grounded human beings – that has spawned reference to tech-life balance as a desirable goal in 21st century life.

One way that some people set out to achieve tech-life balance, if it proves elusive, is through self-imposed boundaries, restricting the number of hours they allow themselves to touch a keypad or look at a screen. Such a concept, as illustrated in the citation above, is now sometimes referred to as non-screen time (or NST for short). The term digital detox is also used to refer to a period of time not using electronic devices.

Background – tech-life balance

The expression tech-life balance has been circulating for about the last three years or so, presumably galvanized by the social media revolution and the realization that, for many, the Internet and other forms of electronic communication are not just tools, but a personal space that we somehow 'inhabit', it now being practically impossible to imagine life without them.

Tech-life balance is of course based on the expression work-life balance, which describes the relationship between the amount of time and effort that someone gives to work and the amount that they give to other aspects of life, personal relationships etc. Ironically, in the 21st century there's a kind of circular connection between the two expressions, because the freedoms afforded by tech are precisely what can often make work-life balance more difficult to achieve.

The expression work-life balance first emerged in British English in the late seventies, and was adopted in US English by the mid eighties.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 27th December 2012.

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