Humanities Institute

Dr. Keri Stephens, HI Faculty Fellow, To Publish Book on How Tech Impacts Work/Life Balance

Mon, November 13, 2017
Dr. Keri Stephens, HI Faculty Fellow, To Publish Book on How Tech Impacts Work/Life Balance
Dr. Keri Stephens

Until the early 2000s, workplaces provided most of the devices employees used to do their jobs. But Dr. Keri Stephens, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at UT-Austin and 2016-18 HI Faculty Fellow in Health, Well-Being, Healing, realizes that the way people communicate using technology at work is changing. Now, people bring their own devices to work. How has this shift in technology use impacted work/life balance?

Dr. Stephens’ new book, Negotiating Control: Organizations & Mobile Communication, is scheduled to be published in summer 2018. It explores technology use in the workplace and its implications. In it, Dr. Stephens makes the claim that while people assume that mobile communication is a uniform practice, people have different access to technology and thus those assumptions must be challenged. Not everyone has the same access to mobile devices at work, and those in positions of power must take that fact into consideration. Her research draws on over 25 years of research in this field, as well as interviews and focus groups with people in over 35 different types of jobs.

As a Fall 2017 Humanities Institute Faculty Fellow, Dr. Stephens has presented her current research on how people interact with communication technology, an area in which she has published over 50 articles. Negotiating Control is her first book. She explains that she wrote the book in accessible prose, presenting engaging stories about use of technology in the workplace from human resource managers and professors to janitors and landscapers, in order to ensure that all kinds of people will be able to read and use the information inside. 

One particular story in the book is a key example of the very different relationships people have with personal technology. Delilah works the phones in dispatch at a police station. Her boss is overwhelmed with emails and asks his team to communicate through texts instead but doesn’t realize that some people, like Delilah, can’t afford a service plan to send and receive frequent texts. Asking colleagues to use their personal phones at work is something that many of us wouldn’t think twice about, but it is something that we must consider. Dr. Stephens’ new book uses the example of Delilah and many other examples to illustrate the idea that employees, managers, friends, and family negotiate control of mobile communication.

Dr. Stephens and her team recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the role of mobile devices in the recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Hurricane victims called for help, in response to Harvey and Irma, via social media for the first time in U.S. history. She and her team are exploring what this use of social media means for future disasters, especially for people who don’t have cell phones or for people who can’t afford a data plan.

Negotiating Control: Organizations & Mobile Communication is a fascinating book that will appeal to a broad audience and help them understand why looking at personal technology use is important. It is a project filled with passion and is sure to be an enlightening read!

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