Technology and Civilization.
Humankind has become a technological civilization, however qualified arguably the “civilization” bit by Ghandi’s reply to a journalist’s inquiry about his thoughts on the Western variety in particular. “It would be a good idea,” he said. Whatever the case, and whichever this bipedal species’ shortcomings on the not-fucking-up-both-each-other-and-the-very-flowerpot-on-which-we-thrive-and-multiply front, technology has become an indelible part of the human story. Hence, in addition to the odd consumer-guidish caveat emptors and whatnot, your correspondent would like to continue to wed the practical to the ethereal, exploring broader issues of machine and man (both sexes), and what either term might mean as the 21st century wears on. The end of email An issue straddling the office worker, machine, and what can broadly be labeled as the ‘economic imperative’ is email. Email, of course, is not an issue as such.
It’s a means of communicating, a conduit through which ideas of people, indeed issues, are funneled. As such it is a vacuum, meaningless like weed-covered tracks without a train. As an agent of transmission however email by far exceeds the train in speed, just as the train once betokened a revolutionary acceleration next to earlier horse-drawn contraptions. In short, speed matters. Email, as an issue, matters. Written exchanges, thanks to the invention of the electronic missive, have today become instantaneous. Of most office workers, especially in competitive businesses, they require immediate action. Telephone conversations are often limited to the grossly annoying “Did you receive my email”, meaning, “Why haven’t you replied yet?” As a result, over the past decade productivity growth for deskbound personnel has equaled reading, treating, and responding to ever more emails. Oodles of the stuff.
They “ping!” or “pop!”, and if left unattended for too long, multiply like rabbits. Wither hence? How much is too much? Many people, yours included, will confirm that a certain limit has been reached. Surely there is no such thing as faster than immediate. Electrons, as well as the human mind, are bound by the speed of light. Time travel as a means of digesting all your bosses’, peers’ and underlings’ delightful written insights within the span of a normal-ish working day can be called impractical at best. Bye bye then to economic growth, that other seemingly unbreakable covenant of nature? Obviously, something’s gotta give. First of all, the terrific reign of email must, and probably will come to an end. At some point. However, if at times you feel inspired to a Bastille-like stampede, an icy swoosh of the guillotine to end your cerebral woes, you’re set for disappointment.
The enemy lurks within. Email itself has already begun to morph into a new, more intuitive arena of exchange. A new Wave. With a bit of luck you might have already obtained an invitation to scrutinize a test-version of Google’s innovative communication scheme. Other providers of email software are expected to follow in their food steps. What does it mean? In brief, the wave aims to stop your letter from boating around at all. A sea change indeed. In stead you’ll be creating a tableau, away from your own computer and up in the cloud, containing text, video, pictures, and sundry documents. Rather than ‘sending’ your brilliant idea, you’ll merely ‘invite’ your insignificant others to come and have a look at what you done did. Once more than two people are involved, the advantages become clear. The endless carousel of CC’ing, forwarding, replying, and jumbled re-forwarding comes to a blissful stop. Attachments will hover near your original message, to be edited by all at once. No more working on “the wrong version”.
A coworker taking over while you’re out skiing in Dubai for a week? Simply, invite him or her to the virtual, shared desk and let them replay the unfolding of events, revisions, amendments of alterations, and sundry tweaks. Dissolving locus. Aside from providing companies with a means of squeezing yet a little more juice from hired brains, the wider significance of the wave is an additional step toward the irrelevance of place. For a while now most of modern enterprises have been paying lip service to the notion that brainworkers are able to perform their job wherever they are.
Tele-commuting was supposed both to have solved gridlock and reconcile family and work life ages ago. One of the reasons for this has been the primitive, highly abstracized manner in which electronic –but still essentially written- means of communication convey thought. The written word, and certainly mass literacy, an overwhelmingly recent skill as opposed to spoken language as such, still presents a sizeable challenge to most people. Rich, three-dimensional, emotion-laden ideas are downgraded, stripped of nuance, and congealed in a series of two-dimensional lines, bits and dots.
Hence we still hop on airplanes, trains, and busses to meet the important client, customer, boss, etc… “You had to have been there,” as they say. Today, technology is finally catching up. A shared document, up in the cloud, is of course a far cry from the kind of representative technology that could make you believe you’re actually somewhere else but combined with augmented reality, another recent development that enables information or holographic images to be layered on both real and wholly imagined environments, is set to leapfrog us there.
Prepare, in other words, to meet remote coworkers in the cloud, their flickering three-dimensional avatars huddled over information waves. A blissful end to email, validity to nagging claims of not being able to “be everywhere at the same time” and the beginning of a delocalized, pan-human era. Still to come: more on the above: from de-localization to post-individual consciousness, DNA-sequencing for the masses, particle accelerators, GPS and mobility automation, the future of manned spaceflight, and closer to home: the scourge of online market fragmentation.