Just the other day when I was happily driving my mom and sisters and nephew and niece about (I think it was a stupendously sultry afternoon), my mom asked me a question.
“Do you have work tomorrow?”
I believed the next day was a holiday or something like that.
You see, my mom is in her early 60s.
She speaks English, used to be our stay-at-home mom (in the days when most moms were stay at home moms and when a woman didn’t flinch to be called a Housewife but nooooo, these days it’s so impolite, we must use Homemaker!) and cooked and cleaned and washed for us. Basically she stayed at home while Dad, the English teacher, went out to work.
My mom worked briefly as a clerk before she married my dad and even then, my mom married very early – she was 22 when she got married and 24 when I was born.
The working world, to her, seemed rather alien.
She knows people go to work at prescribed periods in a day. Like Dad used to have lunch then zip off to teach from 1pm to 6.30pm, Mondays to Fridays. From time to time, he had to do things like invigilation. Most of the time, he had weekends to rest.
That is why explaining to her what I do (or rather what Nic and I do with our people in the office) seems difficult.
“Mom, I work regardless of where I am. I could be in the office but even when I’m not in the office, I’m still working. As long as I have my Wifi connection and my Fujitsu laptop, I am working.”
I think she couldn’t imagine what I was saying to her.
It helped that my sister, the One Is Who Constantly Hooked To The Net (Facebook most likely and blasts out statuses to the world like cryptic clues), reiterated that yes, these days, it doesn’t matter where we are, we work most of the time.
Turning to my mom, she said, “She doesn’t need to be in her office to work.”
And still, it didn’t help Mom understand what we really do.
(Sometimes Mom calls me up to chat and asks, “Are you in the office?” I could tell her that I’m not and that I’m at home (working) but it wouldn’t make sense to her. Office to her means work. If I’m at home, it means I am not working.)
For I started thinking.
Our world must be so strange to our parents who are in their 60s and 70s (my Dad’s approaching 70 this June). He only goes online when he wants my sister to show him the Da Ma Cai results. Mom almost never does because again, my sister’s netbook, tablet and other devices are just too confusing and scary to touch.
I remembered once many years ago when I tried to show her how to use my sister’s old PC. I wanted her to know that the online world could be quite exciting (and that she could access her favourite feng shui predictions online).
I told her to hold the mouse and use it and she turned to me and said, “One click or two clicks?”
I was floored. I never even stopped to think about how many clicks. That was such an eye-opener to me. I realized we take so many things for granted. In a newbie’s hands, even clicks (or using the scroll function) was a new experience and she was unsure how to go about it.
Even until today, Nic’s parents have a hard time digesting the idea that we could be back in quiet Kuching and still be engaged in work! All we needed was our devices (which these days seem to grow!) and a Wifi connection.
The kinds of work our parents and parents-in-law understood were the types where you had fixed hours (like 8 to 5). You worked five days, or even in some cases five and half days. On Saturdays and Sundays, you rested. In those days, you couldn’t do work even if you wanted to (from home) as all your resources were in the office!
The seamlessness of our lives and work these days can be frightening to our parents. They see us staring intently at our computers, wonder what’s up and see us punching the keyboard and sometimes we do this all day long.
“Are they really working?”
Even when my sister is on leave, she’s still reading and settling company stuff via emails.
Even when my other sister is on CNY break, she’s still online, checking up on her blogshop and reviewing customer orders.
Even when my friend is down with the flu, she’s still conferencing with her bosses halfway round the world from home.
Even when we’re all away from our desks, we’re still working.
If I could only tell them that not only are we working and doing transactions, we’re also connecting with friends all around the world.
We’re also working more hours than before (which explains why I take a complete weekend sabbath from my beloved Fujitsu and why you won’t see me online on weekends if I can help it).
We’re also talking to people all over the world with just a click of a button and chat with old buddies and see their faces too.
Technology has freed us to work from anywhere we choose but it has also chained us to working anywhere we choose. That’s the paradox of our times.
Now that’s a hard one to explain to Mom.