The Future of Work

I’ve been a semi-regular reader of Wired Magazine since 1995. Back in those days, it was an exciting publication. It had a real revolutionary, counter-culture feel and captured the ethos of the hacker mindset. I still have a few old copies in my closet I bring out once in a while to look over and reminisce. It’s fun to see what Wired was doing as far as cutting-edge graphic design for the time, but the most interesting things to me are the predictions of the future from various pundits and how shockingly wrong they often are. I’m always skeptical of anyone who claims to know what the future of technology holds, especially when they start talking about anything beyond five years from now. The problem with predicting the future is that it is based only on what we know now, and the variables are constantly changing. One person I read said that video on the internet will never take off. Another was certain that internet telephony would never happen because packet switching was just not made for that type of communication.

Another common prediction, one that is still repeated today, is that the internet will bring the end of the brick-and-mortar workplace. Soon most of us knowledge workers will be able to work  remotely almost exclusively. One reader wrote in on this topic predicting what might happen to the automobile industry once the number of commuters drops. Of course, many people work remotely already. I did it for more than two years (I hated it). As popular as it seems, we are far from a point where working at home is a common thing.  I’ve always believed that great work is done by teams made up of warm bodies filling seats in the same room, and not a loosely connected network of nomads. Camaraderie and rapport, to me, seem to be undervalued. But for how long?  Marissa Mayer just required everyone at Yahoo to be on site. Companies are bringing software development jobs back from overseas. Is this a new trend? I’m curious to see what the future will hold, but I’m not making any predictions at this point.

UPDATE: There is a pretty interesting discussion about this on Slashdot right now. I seem to be in the minority opinion, but then again, I’ve never had to work in a soul-crushing cube farm.