Let's not fretabout the internet

published in Distans, Stockholm, Sweden. August 1995.

Well, is Teleworking here to stay or not? Has the "quiet revolution" run its course, or will future generations look back on the outside office as a phenomenon of the 20th century? Are work patterns changing irrevocably to more flexibility and less security, or when new technology is assimilated and becomes common place, will working life become predictable once again? Radio programmes and newspaper articles, conferences, and governments all seem to be demanding from their expert informants some sort of certainty as to which way we the public are moving, and the experts strive to oblige, using any statistics they can lay their hands on from rises in unemployment to rises in sea levels to bolster and support their particular hypothesis. It was ever thus.

We all want someone to have the answers, most of us need to believe that someone up there has thought it all through, knows what to do, has it all under control, and most important of all, can make it  all right. To this end we project onto our leaders and experts the wisdom and authority that we want them to have, and it is a brave and some would say foolish politician or expert, who would withdraw from the projections and say "I don't know." Most succumb to and are flattered by their given status, others identify with the projections and believe themselves to have all the answers.

Teleworking and its possible ramifications have over the past few years become the focus of much speculation. Inevitably politicians have wanted to explore and exploit the possibilities it offers viz a viz employment, employers spotting the economic advantages are beginning to adopt it as a very viable alternative to building new office blocks, environmentalists see the possibility at last of commuter free zones, and the media knows a good story is to be found in you and I tucked behind a PC in a remote cottage with roses round the door. Needless to say, all those involved in one way or another with the information super highway from President Clinton down have an opinion on the way the world is moving a propos Teleworking.

So when I was asked if there was any danger of a Teleworking backlash as an "expert" on human relations, I put my mind to the question. Of course there can only really be a backlash if there is something to react against, and there can only be something to react against if it has been imposed against people's will, and if all other alternatives have been removed. Now I'm not so sure that that is the case with Teleworking, certain sections of society would have us believe that soon everyone will be Teleworking, that motorways will be freed from all traffic and that the office party will be a thing of the past, those pundits who prophecy with such certainty will at best be shown to be foolish, but at worst may slow down the real progress towards SOME traffic being taken off the roads by SOME people staying at home to work, for, by speaking of a world revolution of totally different work patterns they will excite fear of change and resistance which could indeed result in a backlash.

One of the wonderful things about Teleworking is that it suits some people and not others. My twenty four and twenty seven year old daughters would die if they had to work from home, for them the office gossip is an integral and vital component to their working lives, and how are they to meet their handsome prince if it is not by the photocopying machine or in the company dining room. However once having met and married their handsome princes and decided to have babies, they may well opt for a few years of working at home. My husband on the other hand, having worked at home for fifteen years wouldn't go back to an office environment, as we say in England "for all the tea in China"

So am I now at risk of becoming an expert on "backlashes?" I don't think there will be one because I don't really think there is anything to "backlash" against. There is it seems to me disillusionment with the Internet and World Wide Web which stubbornly remains for the most part to be the province of the enthusiasts, but maybe that is the way of things. How many of us ever use our technological appliances to the full. We use and select what is useful and adequate. My washing machine has 10 different cycles, I habitually use just two of them, the video machine is never tested beyond its capacity to play rented videos, and I know for sure that even my modest computer could perform tasks far superior to the ones I give it to do. That I suspect is the how it is for most people. We use what technology is available to help us achieve what we need to achieve, and for most of us that is good enough. We should not feel guilty because we enjoy working at home some of the time but not all of the time; we should not consider Teleworking to be a success or not a success because more or less people are working at home than we thought. Technology is here to stay, it offers us limitless possibilities; isn't it good enough to wait and see how it will all work out?

© Pauline Hodson