The always-connected generation

Posted by Cristian Livadaru on Sunday, November 20, 2022

The always-connected generation

This post has been in my draft folder for quite a while now, I was rethinking and recomposing it in my head several times since I didn’t like the direction it headed into and was not tackling the core issue I was trying to describe. So, here’s another take at it hoping that I will manage to dump my thoughts on this oh-so-connected world we live in rather than trying to explain the things that I am doing and why I’m doing them, I might cover this in a different post.

During Brucon (a cyber security conference in Belgium) I had the pleasure of listening to Sabine d’Argoeuves talk and while there were a lot of great and interesting talks, this one was the best one for me and seeing so many people nodding in approval shows that Sabine was hitting a nerve and that we have a problem in the IT industry, or at least so I thought, but taking with people, the issue is not only for the IT industry but has spread like a terrible weed all over the place, thanks to … well … the IT Industry making it possible to be always connected.

I think it’s best to watch the talk for yourself, BruCON 0x0E - Being a cyberdefender: behind the curtains - Sabine d’Argoeuves

but if you want a short gist, she addresses the issue of being always connected to work, there are more and more real emergencies, where you have to cancel all your plans, but even when there is no real emergency, you are connected to work either via email, internal chat systems, several chat apps and lots of other ways. You always keep checking in, is that issue solved that occurred recently? Is there something new? You hear of a new zero-day and instantly start checking your systems or get someone from the team to investigate. If whatever attack is currently in the wild hits you, you always think about the impact it has on your company, the employees, and the amount of work it might create to mitigate the issues. Now, this is all and good when this happens on a Wednesday at 11, but now Imagine you’re with your kids doing something fun and then you have to start staring at your phone and get working and trust me, these issues do not happen on a Wednesday at 11!

Being Cyberdefense Lead at a company with 25 Billion Euro revenue and 100.000 employees is something else and in no way comparable to the small things I or other small companies out there are doing, but what I want to write about is the core problem, the always being connected part. I always keep saying that I don’t work in cybersecurity, but in reality, for most of my clients, I’m the one who keeps their network and systems up and running. Any crypto malware and I’m the one who has to restore backups, any server outage and I’m the one who has to revive the servers.

Coincidentally a friend mentioned just recently after this conference the very same problem, a message on the weekend “I’m sorry to disturb you during the weekend…”, yet here the sender was, disturbing during the week. He works in an industry that has nothing to do with IT and there is no real emergency, you will survive and you can do your work if your car has a scratch or a dent somewhere for a few more days. But here’s the thing, the sender might honestly not want to disturb you, it’s just that he/she had time at that moment to send that message. Some messenger systems offer the scheduling of messages but rarely someone knows how to use these features or even think about doing so. Then again, some people expect you to be reachable at any time and respond instantly. We have been living in this instant gratification world for quite some time now. I’m also guilty, we all are and it’s ok as long as it’s something automated and no people are involved. But not everyone has the same thoughts on this issue and you will never manage to train everyone you interact with to respect your time. Just because you have time now to call or message me, doesn’t give you the right to expect that I also have time and this goes both ways, I can’t expect that you have time just because I do.

How do we solve this?

After Sabine’s talk I had to ask her, how does she deal with this kind of work, four children, finding time for a hobby, and not feeling like she’s drowning? Unfortunately, the answer was that she, like a lot of us, feels like she’s drowning and has no answer, the talk was intended to get us thinking of the issue and also let us know that we are not alone in battling with these problems. It’s painful and a relief at the same time to see other people battling with the same problems, people one might think to have no problems at all if you just check into their Instagram or other social media posts.

I have been trying for years to get this to work but even though some things seem to work, I think I’m far away from having a perfect solution and I’m not going to go down this path in this post. I’m trying to do the same as Sabine to get you thinking and also noticing that this is a problem, even if the internet is trying to convince you otherwise, trying to tell you “just work a bit harder, just a bit longer and you will reach your dream. Hustle a bit more, grind a bit more, look at all those accomplished people out there, you’re not trying hard enough”.

“You just wasted my time”

You might be thinking “wtf man? I just wasted precious productive time reading your shit and you didn’t even give me an answer?” Yes, that’s exactly what I did. Not everything has to be about being productive all the time, but again, I won’t go down the rabbit hole of trying to provide an answer to this, mostly also because I just have no answer. I’m flawed like everyone else and am still trying to figure this shit out. The only thing I know so far is that I refuse to accept this as being the new normal way. This must get to a point of being an exception and we must get out of the “this is my job, this is the way it is” way of thinking. Nobody will change this shit we don’t like for us, we have to change what we don’t like by our self.

I can just leave you with two recommendations, the first one would be the book “Four thousand weeks” by Oliver Burkeman. There is so much stuff in there where I can just see myself trying the same things Oliver Burkeman did and failing miserably as he did. The second tip would be the YouTube channel of Struthless especially this video titled The sharp axe method