Any good-sized city today has rush hours – times of the day in the morning and evening when roads are filled with (largely) single-occupant cars headed to town where people will spend their day in what futurist Frank Ogden once called “architectural filing cabinets.” A huge percentage of commuters spend hours per week traveling to work in facilities whose data sets are online. Back in the 1980’s I speculated that, with the rise of ubiquitous personal computing, people would increasingly work from home – saving time, gas, and personal stress.
In Brazil my office is a car-ride away. Most days I still commute to work.
Given the traffic jams in Recife (rivaling those of Chicago, for example) I have plenty of time to think about why I commute to an office when the bulk of my work can be done from home. After all, not only do I have a great broadband connection from home, there are free video conferencing tools (such as Skype, or Google+) that allow me to have “face to face” meetings.
My guess is that I persist in going to an office because of the things I can do there for which distance-computing is not adequate. These are activities with my peers. I often drop into other people’s offices to bounce around ideas. Sometimes a casual encounter in the hall outside my door results in a meeting that leads to a new project. And then there is lunch. While I often have lunch at home, I also go out with others from the Center from time to time where we get caught up on each other’s lives.
In short, I commute to work in support of collegiality and serendipity – things for which I have yet to find technological alternatives.
My son, Harvey, on the other hand, is a master telecommuter – living in Colorado while working for a company in North Carolina. But even his work brings him to the mother ship at regular intervals to do those things that don’t make it across the network.
The Internet is an amazing tool that has achieved great things in its short existence. But, for now, many of us whose livelihood comes from information still need to be in physical proximity with our colleagues. Technology changes rapidly, social systems do not.
Now when someone figures out how to pour a decent Merlot through the Internet, that may change things…