late at night, and I’m feeling jetlagged as I lug my heavy laptop computer and
light suitcase into an anonymous hotel room.
I glance wistfully at the bed, where a few years ago I would have
gratefully collapsed. Not now,
though – I have miles of email to go before I rest.
large telecommunications providers feature the goal of “anytime, anywhere”
as the centerpiece of their corporate missions.
Indeed, they have succeeded beyond expectation.
It is now possible to conduct our work at anytime, and from anyplace.
As I look around my depressingly canonical hotel room, I realize full
well that this qualifies as being anytime, anyplace.
What has happened is that the ability
to work from such a place at such a time has become a business compulsion
to do so, rather than an option. I
must do my email; it is what our business environment now demands.
am reminded of a list of trends that I heard from a business speaker recently.
One that caught my eye was “blending of work and play.”
The speaker didn’t elaborate, but it set me to thinking. Certainly, our work is blending into the time that we
previously considered play. It’s
not clear any longer when it is that we are on duty and when it is that we are
I reflect on the advantages and drawbacks of various occupations.
When I see a tired laborer trudging home after a shift, I have ambivalent
feelings. I am thankful to be
spared the physical demands that I imagine such jobs entail.
Then I think of the compensating advantage of off-duty freedom – the
job doesn’t go home with the worker. Then
I come full circle with the realization that this freedom comes at a price. Their jobs are not the central, inextricable parts of their
lives that engineering gives to its professionals.
How nice it is to be free at night, but how awful to have your job only a
peripheral attachment to your life.
has always been true that in engineering the job has gone home in the mind of
the engineer. What is new is this
intimate and continuous electronic attachment to the work environment.
It is as if tentacles are reaching out to us wherever we are.
I feel the tentacles undulating and probing for me in the viscous ether. I can feel their hunger and their urgent need for attention.
Every day there are more of them, as the electronic community grows
exponentially. They envelop me, and
I cannot sleep until they are sated.
was only a few years ago that pagers and mobile phones were novelty items for
the really important people, like surgeons and plumbers.
Now it seems as if they have become human appendages, conveying not
status, but dependence. When I had a pager, I felt my relationship to it was like the
dog to its electronic collar. When
I first carried a laptop computer onto airplanes, I felt the warmth of
friendship, as a piece of home away from home.
Now the planes are full of grim-faced business people, frantically typing
away like so many pecking chickens, hoping to get the highest possible number of
keystrokes before battery expiration.
isn’t just the technology that is creating the urgency.
It is the number of people getting connected and the cultural
expectations that are growing around the technology.
Every day I hear from new people who have just discovered the net – old
friends from college or high school and casual business acquaintances flushed
with the new power of connectivity. I
cannot let them down, and I feel the weight of my laptop growing as I carry it
from the airport. This weight is
related to the sure knowledge of the information it contains that will keep me
up that evening.
I feel certain that there is a blending of work into play.
Is there, however, a complementary blending of play into work?
Perhaps computers and networking have also given this to us.
There has never been a time in my long career when there has been so much
potential for excitement and fun in what we do. Hardly a day goes by when I do not smile to myself at some
wonderful new discovery on the Web, or I do not get a charming message from
someone I haven’t heard from in years. Secretly,
too, I feel that the killer application for the computer is quietly taking hold
at business meetings where the participants all sit in front of their laptops.
Apparently, they are taking notes at the meeting.
Actually, they are doing their email, and have successfully opted out of
the actual physical meeting!
a recent neighborhood party I was cornered by a stranger, who began telling me
at length and with great enthusiasm about his work. He had written a Broadway musical, and was in the process of
trying to get it produced. Privately,
I thought his chances were zero, but I had to admit that it was all very
interesting. After fifteen minutes
of this, he finally drew breath, looked at me closely for the first time, and
asked, “What do you do?”
is always the moment of truth. What
do I do? Usually I give some flippant reply and change the subject.
Nobody wants to hear about engineering.
However, I was overcome with an attack of honesty, and I started to
describe some of the things that occupy my workday.
I had hardly begun when he interrupted.
With a tone of skepticism and an expression of incredulity he sneered,
“You like this?”
was nonplussed by this rejoinder. In
my honesty mode I blurted out the truthful reply.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s
what I do.”
this self-revelation, I began worrying about work. Is it really more fun these days? There probably isn’t any way to tell. I do firmly believe, however, that we are working longer
hours. The global competitive
environment currently demands this in many companies.
But there is also that electronic octopus with its waving tentacles,
wrapping us up, engulfing us, and dragging us somewhere we know not, as
communications becomes ever more intense.
anywhere – you are empowered by the magic.
And you are its slave.
Robert W. Lucky