Sunday, April 20, 2008

Series of Economist Stories on Digital Nomads

During a flight to Silicon Valley last week for AdTech I read a special report in the Economist on Digital Nomads. The intro article sets the tone and talks about how the mobility of cellular devices are obviously quickly changing the world. I love the description of early digital nomads as more akin to astronauts who must carry everything with them (cables, disks, dongles etc).

My comments:
I do tend to carry a good inch of paper everywhere I go, 90% of which are CS/AI research papers or dissertation notes to work on as I have the time. Opening the notebook is way to0 much of a hassle as a mobile reading device (on an airplane). He also states that engineers at Google tend to carry only a smart phone of some kind and no laptop when traveling. Is this true? I find this a bit hard to believe unless they are managers and not active coders.. I can't imagine writing code on a blackberry or worse and iPhone.
I'll admit I have no smart phone and do carry a laptop everywhere. I'd like it to be smaller, but not at the cost of horsepower or decent display size. I tried using a Microsoft powered Samsung smart phone and hated it, what it gave me in increased cool functions I sacrificed in phone function.

The next article in the series discusses the new found benefits and costs of our ability to work everywhere and anywhere.

My comments:
My laptop is definitely a desktop replacement for me, I want mobility.. but I am old fashioned enough to want a regular desk to work at.. even if that is my current count of three different ones at different times of the week. I have tried the coffee shop thing.. it works to a point but I find myself only being efficient for the first 2-3 hours then it goes to hell as I start hearing and being distracted by the conversations around me. I suppose it would be fine if I needed to do mostly emailing and short attention span coding. I also think that most business conversations are sensitive enough that talking in a public space is not acceptable in my mind... nothing to hide, yet why broadcast every mundane and not so mundane detail to the people around you?
The parts about culture clashes from old cubical work and new mobile work are spot on. It points to the need to trust every employee and set a tone that what matters is production and not the act of working.

The third article in the series explores the need for new types of spaces and architecture for this new way of working.

My comments:
I loved this one, even if it assumes that I 100% embrace the nomad ethos. Perhaps if I had such a space to work, and people to work with in that space I'd abandon some of my older ways. The closest thing I can imagine these 'third places' being is a combination of a student-union building and a college library. Very non uniform places with nooks and crannies for every type of 'work'. The Bozeman paper just had an article on a new business for 'on demand offices' and I saw two others described in a Seattle tech magazine at the airport. Winning idea.. 50% of the reason I go to campus two days a week is for socialization.

Great quote:
These places are "physically inhabited buy psychologically evacuated" ... leaving people feeing "more isolated that if the cafe where merely empty".

Great food for thought in the articles. I do notice that in my travels I see one thing that disturbs me. It is some people's inability to ignore their cell phone or crackberry when the are engaged in a face to face conversation or meeting. I was very appreciative of one executive's recent demonstration of 100% ignoring his device when it rang or vibrated.. he didn't even flinch. This was the exception to the rule over the past week.

I need to let this brew more.. at some point I am sure it will spur some good ideas. Perhaps there is an algorithm or platform waiting to be discovered that will spur us to look up from our devices and engage each other again. I suspect a big part of our addiction to them is that it's a much more high bandwidth information pipe that simple conversations are.

1 comment:

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