The Changing Way We Work & Live – part 1

Laptop on beach

Laptop on beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a revolution under way that is gaining momentum, and yet doing so in a way that although we scarcely notice the changes from day-to-day, when we look back a few years we can see they’re enormous.

This revolution is in the way we work and live.

Ten years ago, working from 9 to 5 in an office was overwhelmingly the norm, and when we left the office at 5 we effectively switched off from work until we arrived back at our desks the next morning.

Today, this is very different and the lines between work and leisure are increasingly blurred, impacting almost every aspect of life from where we work, to how, when and even to our holidays, and yet we’re really still in the early stages of this revolution.

It all came together with the convergence of the Internet, smartphones and notebook PCs in the mid-late 90s – the Internet becoming increasingly pervasive once a user-friendly browser, Netscape, was released in 1994, the term “Smart Phone” first being used in 1997 and, of course, the increasing power and affordability of notebook PCs throughout the 90s.

By 2000, this convergence of technologies was enabling people to become properly location-independent – accessing email at any time, from anywhere, and moving from this to being able to run an increasingly wider list of applications on these portable devices: initially the notebook PCs, but increasingly on smart phones as the performance of these devices improved. For the first half of the decade, though, such location independence was still the preserve of the ‘early adopters’ as the technologies continued to evolve and the cost and availability of bandwidth improved, with such ‘early adopters’ being equipped by the companies for which they worked.

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 brought about the next significant jump in working practice – or rather, the introduction of the Apple App Store a few months after the iPhone brought about this jump.  The iPhone and App Store enabled people to choose from a wide range of applications that enabled their smartphones to be so much more functional than had been the case to date.

Suddenly, Apple moved into the mainstream of intelligent device use, and people started demanding that they be allowed to use their own smartphone (the iPhone, in this case) rather than the company-supplied one, (most often a Blackberry at that time). People liked the new applications that were available, and wanted to use these at work as well as in their leisure time.

And then, in 2010, came the iPad…

This combined sufficient power and screen size to effectively run most business-level applications that people needed to access when on the move, with battery life than enable all-day working – a major limitation of notebook PCs that typically could only run for a few hours.

For the first time, people could work remotely from their offices all day without worrying about power source availability – true location-independence had become feasible.

Of course, things continue to evolve. PC makers, seeing massive market share being taken by these portable smart devices (phones and tablets), which outsold PCs for the first time in 2011, have countered with Ultrabooks – full-power notebooks that utilise solid state disks and great battery life to provide full PC performance with all-day power. Tablets, too, get more powerful and functional, while bandwidth continues to become more pervasive and cheaper.

The “Bring Your Own Device” movement is now taking off – users insisting on being able to work with their own choice of devices and companies recognising the cost savings, and motivational advantages of allowing this.

Today, it’s entirely commonplace for employees to have no real office address: their contact details show a mobile number alone, and they work from home, from client sites and from wherever else is most convenient. They come together over video conference calls from multiple places, and share knowledge using a multiplicity of internet-based tools.

And this trend will keep accelerating, with interesting social consequences likely to emerge as society increasingly reverses the location-dependence introduced with the Industrial Revolution.

I’ll explore some of these, together with the technology issues driving them, in future posts.

Note: I first posted this on the Business Connexion blog on 11 Feb.

6 responses to “The Changing Way We Work & Live – part 1

  1. Pingback: The Changing Way we Work & Live – part 3 | Whit's End

  2. Pingback: The Changing Way We Work & Live – part 2 | Whit's End

  3. It’s fascinating to see different experiences of the changes. Mine are similar to yours but differ.

    At an early stage, before html took off I took to working from where I wanted, as much as possible. In those days I used Compuserve. It was remarkable, to me, how many corporate people just accepted that. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted to do the same. I know that I found that working in a multinational it was sometimes best to work from one’s home office to write reports. My experience, about 10 times more productive than at the office. Two days there and a fortnight or more ahead of the game!)

    (Ouch WordPress is putting rubbish in front of my edit box, so changed browsers at this point!!)

    One thing that means is that, if email habits are laid down, you automatically continue working wherever you are. When I moved to NZ I was doing work for people in South Africa without a break. Smooth and almost invisible transition in some ways.

    For what I do the device revolution aspect is quite different. Many years ago I abandoned consumer OS’s in favour of server OS’s. The standard systems were simply incapable of doing what I wanted. That situation has, at last, changed, much to my delight. The higher end SKU’s of Windows 7 have the power. (They also make it easier without the features of a server OS that are just dead weight to me!)

    That also means that mobile / portable devices have been no more than expensive paper weights to me for a long time. I only got my first laptop in the last few years, they finally got the power (partly due to OS) to be usable at an acceptable price point.

    Many years ago there was a decent device, that I loved. It was the size of some recent phones and it actually did useful things. That was the HP 41CX programmable calculator. Calculator is really a misnomer, it came from the computer division at HP. Piece of genius. A genius that started toward the end of school at UBHS. I remember seeing HP 35’s and 45’s then so this goes back to the early 70’s! Had a 29C at university.

    Unfortunately the hand held devices have regressed since then, from my perspective. iPhone, iPad, Android… expensive paper weights for me. I thought that the MS Surface devices might be the ticket. The first one (with the ARM processor) failed as all it has is office, which I might now use once a quarter or whatever. None of the programs I’ve built or use would work on it :-(. The other (Intel / proper) version looked interesting until I saw the memory it has. The way I figure it best I might get (eventually) is 128 G Solid State drive plus (if I’m lucky) 128 G SD. Total 256, maybe usable but not really there. A pity, the gesture interface has huge potential. (See for a competent beginning analysis of that.)

    Apps. I’ve looked but not really used seriously. My take has influenced my aversion to the little devices however. I never found one that looked any use to me. On top of that they seem to have a really broken commercial model. What serious developer doing worthwhile things, that are not in the consumer area, is going to give up 30% of his price to some incompetent bunch of gatekeepers, who don’t really know what they’re doing? That’s my (slightly dated) take on app store entry. It correlates with a lot of games and low functionality (from my perspective) applications. (On top of that they seem to have to put up with dated software development tools… which inhibits powerful and productive work.)

    I’m concerned that the makers of useful tools and OS’s might get confused as the press commentators have, and not realise / forget that there are different markets here, and distinctly different needs. Many people who had a PC didn’t need a lot of what it could do. Many of those have been convinced to use devices that prevent them extending their horizons. (No ability to program, is, in my view, a way of really limiting brain potential!) Their choice. (I hope it’s an informed choice.) There are others who are inclined to cash in on some of the potential. I hope some of them aren’t similarly locked out of doing the things beyond pre-packaged applications.

    The good news, for me, is that I see a steady (if a bit slow) progress of ever more powerful tools, available for the taking!

    • Thanks for a very interesting comment, Mike.

      I’m afraid that I no longer program at all (haven’t done so in a couple of decades), so my use of computers is very much that of the typical business user: a tool to give me access to the info I need where/when I need it. So, smartphone, tablet, notebook and desktop environments (mix of Windows and Apple with an Android type device thrown in, too). I love the independence this gives me – makes the daily train time useful!

  4. Could not haver said it better myself, Guy.

    Actuall love it! Maybe I should move to Samoa and work globally from there?:-)

    • No reason why you can’t (unless your customers want regular face-to-face meetings, that is).

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