Thursday, May 9, 2019

Maybe we just need to give Clarke a bit more time

A couple of years ago, we ran a thread on this video from Arthur C. Clarke speculating on the world of 2000. In particular, we discussed suggestion that what we would now call telecommuting would make cities obsolete.

Here was the main reason we suggested for the failure of telecommuting to live up to its promise.
But I think a third factor may well have been bigger than either of those two. The early 60s was an anxious but optimistic time. The sense was that if we didn't destroy ourselves, we were on the verge of great things. The 60s was also the last time that there was anything approaching a balance of power between workers and employers.

This was particularly true with mental work. At least in part because of the space race, companies like Texas Instruments were eager to find smart capable people. As a result, employers were extremely flexible about qualifications (a humanities PhD could actually get you a job) and they were willing to make concessions to attract and keep talented workers.

Telecommuting (as compared to off shoring, a distinction will need to get into in a later post) offers almost all of its advantages to the worker. The only benefit to the employer is the ability to land an otherwise unavailable prospect. From the perspective of 1964, that would have seemed like a good trade, but those days are long past.

Of course, that was 2017. With two more years of an improving job market, we are getting closer to those post war levels, which makes this perhaps a bit less surprising.

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