December 14, 2008

The Future of the Internet III

Scenario 8: The Evolving Concept of Time for Work, Leisure

Prediction and Reactions

PREDICTION:  Few lines divide professional time from personal time, and that’s OK. In 2020, well-connected knowledge workers in more-developed nations have willingly eliminated the industrial-age boundaries between work hours and personal time. Outside of formally scheduled activities, work and play are seamlessly integrated in most of these workers’ lives. This is a net-positive for people. They blend personal/professional duties wherever they happen to be when they are called upon to perform themfrom their homes, the gym, the mall, a library, and possibly even their company’s communal meeting space, which may exist in a new virtual-reality format.

Expert Respondents’ Reactions (N=578)
Mostly Agree 56%
Mostly Disagree  29%
Did Not Respond  15%

All Respondents’ Reactions (N=1,196)
Mostly Agree  57%
Mostly Disagree  29%
Did Not Respond  14%
Note:  Since results are based on a nonrandom sample, a margin of error cannot be computed. The “prediction” was composed to elicit responses and is not a formal forecast.

Overview of Respondents’ Reactions

Many respondents agreed with every aspect of the scenario except for the “net-positive” outcome. This is where the debate was centered in the written elaborations. While some people are hopeful about a hyperconnected future that they say will offer more freedom, flexibility, better mental health, and positive life-improvement, others express fears that mobility and ubiquitous computing will be a burden. When people are always on the grid, these experts believe it will cause stress and the disintegration of family and social life. It also might include oppressive surveillance by bosses and government. Other observations by these respondents: People will rebel against corporate control of their lives. Workers and institutions will have to draw boundaries. Successful employers will adjust by taking holistic approaches that might focus more on work output (projects completed) than inputs (amount of time in the cubicle). Because work infiltrates every corner of life, these experts believe people will be motivated to pursue satisfying employment, rather than settling for a “job.” Deepened personal networks will strengthen professional outcomes. The workforce will be more dispersed. There will be an increase in divorce. People will not take the time to enjoy nurture or nature.

While 29% disagreed, the majority of respondents mostly agreed that by 2020 the formalized delineation of social, personal, and work time will be eliminated for knowledge workers in the world’s most-developed areas, and this will generally be a positive change. There was varied response about the pluses and minuses of the “always-on” environment. Most of the people who wrote elaborations spoke of concerns about the potential negatives of hyperconnectivity.

The following anonymous responses are a sampling of typical attitudes and commonly held views:

  • “What a nightmare! It’s bad enough already, with 24-hour e-mail responses expected.”
  • “What’s going to happen to focus?”
  • “Agree…You can be enjoying deep-sea fishing as you do your stock quotes.”
  • “It will increase the number of people involved in freelance employment.”
  • “If this takes place, you’ll find me in a less-developed country where my time is MINE.”
  • “People will work more from home and remotely instead of wasting time commuting to cubicle hell.”
  • “It will not be a net-positive for anybody but Type A’s and geeks—people who didn’t have a social life in the first place.”
  • “As corporations expand their demands and intrusions into employees’ personal time, workers will eventually rebel.”
  • “It’s already happened, for better or worse. Get over it.”

Respondents noted that work and play evolve as humans and their tools do, and they pointed out that set “workdays” are a recent human concept. “The 9-to-5 approach will disappear completely, with few exceptions,” responded Roberto Gaetano, ICANN Board member. “The current separation between ‘work time’ and ‘free time’ is a byproduct of the industrial revolution, and is bound to disappear with it. Whether this is positive or negative, I don’t know, because the pressure of being ‘always at work’ just because you have the ability to be ‘always connected’ will be high. But we would need to build a new way of life that has to cope with this.”

“The boundaries between work and home, or private life will have been transformed,” wrote Oscar Gandy, author, activist, and emeritus professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania, warning, “The sorts of stress-related illnesses that we see will be astounding.”

Nicholas Carr, author of “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google,” noted hyperconnectivity is already reality for some people, writing that it is a net-positive for corporations, and will cause, “the expansion of the work to encompass all time and all space.”

Gbenga Sesan, an Internet-for-development consultant for Paradigm Initiative in Nigeria, saw positives, responding, “Even those who live in developing (or underdeveloped) nations will be able to overcome the barrier of geography through Internet access and other connected devices. It may be ‘plug-and-pray’ and not ‘plug-and-play’ but it plugs anyway! It’s now 4:05 a.m. in Lagos, Nigeria, and I’m asking myself if everything I’ve done in the last 5 hours will count as work, rest, play, or sleep-mode tasks. In 2020, professional and personal time will be as far from each other as fingers from the keys on a mobile phone. Multitasking will no longer mean driving and talking alone, but it will include work and play at the same time.”

Jerry Michalski, founder and president of Sociate, formerly of Release 1.0 and co-host of the PC Forum, wrote, “It’s healthy to have flextime and other ways to work when you’re sharpest and avoid temporal hassles like rush hour. Some people like to keep their work and private lives very separate; they will find this new world hostile. I’m on the other side—seldom not thinking about the things I care about professionally. One big caveat: we have to have a better Do Not Disturb function. Without it, we are all at the end of electronic leashes, and a major backlash will be much more likely.”

And Charles Kenny, senior economist for the World Bank, an expert on technology and economics, noted, “I hope 200 years’ worth of social progress towards the paid holiday doesn’t end like this.”

Tom Jennings, creator of FidoNet and builder of Wired magazine’s first online presence, reflected the feelings of many survey respondents who disagreed with the scenario, writing, “We work more, work more from home, take more work home, and are overall, paid less for it. Notice that all cars have cup holders now; the extreme technology for such exotic things existed in 1960, only no one wanted them! We drank coffee at home or in a cafe or restaurant!”

A high percentage of the respondents who wrote explanatory elaborations to this scenario used the phrase “this is already happening” or something similar. Of course, the people invited to participate in the Future of the Internet III survey are well-informed technology-savvy knowledge workers, so many are living hyperconnected lives. An example of one of many dozens of responses in this vein comes from Louis Naugès, president of Revevol, an enterprise 2.0 company with offices in France, Spain, the UK and US, who wrote, “Already there! This is the way 100% of our employees work at Revevol, our company; 1Gbit/sec.-minimum networks, wired and mobile, available anywhere, anytime on any device will make this one a no-brainer.”

Susan Crawford, founder of OneWebDay and ICANN Board member, commented, “It’s just how our lives work. Somehow we’ve got to figure out how to fit in 8-9 hours of sleep a night as well, just so we won’t hurl our ever-present handsets against the wall.”

And Christine Boese, a researcher and analyst for Avenue A-Razorfish and Microsoft, wrote, “While I have few lines dividing my professional from personal time, and I love my life that way, everyone I know has clearly and emphatically communicated to me that they STRONGLY demark their personal and professional time, and only allow the professional to intrude with the greatest reluctance. They are not embracing this world I live in, and when I think about it, I have always been this way, long before technology ever came to dominate my life, when I lived as deeply inside books and personal projects that consumed my life then, just as they do now. I could surely do with a little less ‘helpful’ discipline from them telling me to ‘get a life,’ however.”

Hyperconnectivity Allows People to Be Productive Across Many Aspects of Their Lives

Respondents who are already integrating work and personal time in jobs they enjoy and as members of families who don’t mind the integration happily responded that such connectedness will be a net positive. “We are enjoying the benefits even when I am at my birth place, a remote village—Ikrail in Bangladesh,” wrote Professor Lutfor Rahman, chairman of the department of computer science at Stamford University, Bangladesh, and a leader of the Association for Advancement of Information Technology.

Havi Hoffman of the Yahoo developer network responded, “Perhaps this is the latest and most distributed version of an aristocracy human civilization has developed. Best-sellers like ‘The Four-Hour Work Week’ are bellwethers of this trend. This rulers’ club though is widening and becoming more diverse.  I bet if a person had access to a database of Davos World Economic Forum attendees over the last 10-12 years, one would see a pattern of greater diversity, greater inclusion of people more removed from seats of power, but still connected and influential in part because of their significance in the Social OS that is growing like a social commons of metadata about our relationships, our expertise, our causes and passions. The value of weak ties and the portability of connectedness make this work/play continuum possible if not probable. It won’t be true for everybody and the divide between the elite and the poor/the ‘underclass’ could continue to grow.”

Cliff Figallo, founding member of the first online community, The WELL, now of AdaptLocal.org, wrote, “The world is increasingly characterized by uncertainty, so people refuse to divide their lives into professional and personal. Staying connected and informed is the security blanket that people demand.”

People on both the pro and con sides of hyperconnectivity say it will influence people’s health. While those who fear it say it will cause stress-related illnesses, those who welcome it say the flexibility it offers may improve mental health.

Christine Satchell, a senior researcher at the Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology, responded, “People can work when they are at their best and by allowing them to mix professional and personal duties they can spend longer periods of time in front of their machines, actually accomplish more work and get less burnt out.” An anonymous respondent commented, “This is a great vision for knowledge workers, and can cause reduced stress and improved health.”

Micheál Ó Foghlú, research director, Telecommunications Software & Systems Group, Waterford Institute of Technology, noted, “It would be better to think in terms of more people having more professional attitudes to work where more emphasis is on outputs and less on just turning up and signing in. This does not mean that private time disappears.”

Michael Castengera, a senior lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Grady College and president of Media Strategies and Tactics Inc., noted, “Many, if not most, people derive their identity from what they do. It defines who they are. The blending of personal and professional existence will be heightened by the Internet connections.”

Some respondents predicted that the future workforce will prefer a blur of work and personal life. “Flexible, technology-based work environments will be attractive to next-gen workers,” wrote Michael Stephens, an assistant professor at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. “The benefit of this is improved productivity, happy workers, and increased return on investment.”

And Hamish MacEwan, a consultant for Open ICT in New Zealand, commented, “The 9 to 5 of the industrial era was required so worker units, generated by homogeneous ‘education’ that set strict times for functions, would be available to manipulate tangible products. Where we seek ideas and thought, there is no schedule.”

Hyperconnectivity Will Create Unrealistic Work Expectations and Stress, and Intrude on Lives

Many people see hyperconnectivy as a threat. Among the hundreds of elaborations provided by the respondents, only a few people perceived that blending work and personal time would tilt people’s lives toward more time for family, friends, and personal pursuits.

The vast majority of respondents who wrote elaborations equated hyperconnectivity with more work, not more play. Those who agreed with the scenario and saw it as a net-positive tended to be people who also noted they enjoy their work lives and find connection to be valuable. Those who predict that work will impinge on personal time primarily perceived employers as profit-oriented, not people-oriented.

Benjamin Ben-Baruch, senior market intelligence consultant and applied sociologist for Aquent, commented, “In 2020…a myth will develop that outside of formally scheduled activities, work and play can be seamlessly integrated in most of these workers’ lives. Employers will attempt to convince us that this is a net positive for people because we will be able to blend personal/professional duties…However the reality will be quite different. Because we can be surveilled whenever we are ‘connected’ and especially because we can be surveilled whenever we are connected using our employer-provided devices, we can and will be controlled. Our employers will gain even more control over work-time discipline and over our lives and will be able to force even more productive working hours from us. Our lives will in fact be increasingly controlled by those who provide us with the devices that will have become increasingly necessary for us in both our work and personal lives as well as those who own and control the networks and network sites that we use and visit. Some companies will try to distinguish themselves as companies that do not actually use their power to watch and control us—but most companies will do the ‘fiscally responsible’ thing of using available technology to assert control.”

Concern over surveillance was also the central concept in the elaboration from Steve Sawyer, an associate professor in the college of information sciences and technology at Penn State University. Sawyer’s research includes the uptake and uses of computing by knowledge workers. In his 2020 scenario: “Corporate control of workers’ time—in the guise of work/ family balance—now extends to detailed monitoring of when people are on and off work. The company town is replaced by ‘company time-management,’ and it is work time that drives all other time uses. This dystopia challenges the concept of white-collar work, and unionism is increasingly an issue.”

Charles Ess, a professor of philosophy and religion and research on online culture and ethics at Drury University, responded, “This might be a positive scenario for some in the U.S. and, perhaps, Japan. But, for example, in Europe and Scandinavia, there is considerable resistance to what is seen as the American model of working more and more and having less and less of a life. People may be forced into blurring the boundaries between the personal and the professional for economic reasons, but they’re not happy about it and do not see it as a positive. An alternative scenario is to see the well-connected knowledge worker described here as simply a drone in the Borg hive: always connected, never free to be/do anything other than contribute to the collective. Upper-managers who keep their Blackberries and Treos by their side for the 4:30 a.m. phone calls, even during ‘vacation,’ already come close to this depiction. Those on the outside who enjoy at least an occasional freedom from the Net would see such a drone as a slave, not as a free human being.”

Joanna Sharpe, senior marketing manager for Microsoft, commented, “When people are too blended in the mashup between work and play, they are missing valuable time and experiences that probably shouldn’t be pre-empted by a work need, i.e., an important event being with your family or friends and working at the same time, so both groups suffer due to lack of focused attention.”

Victoria Nash, director of graduate studies and policy and research officer at the Oxford Internet Institute responded, “The result may be longer, less-efficient working hours and more stressful home life.”

Scott Smith, principal at Changeist LLC and a consultant, futurist, and writer, noted, “Evidence is mounting that blended work/play scenarios enabled by pervasive connectivity aren’t a net-positive for many able to experience this blend today. Access opens the door to time pressure, the need to respond, and expectations of 24/7 productivity. It isn’t clear how this will change for the better in 13 years’ time.” Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, shared a similar sentiment and added, “Institutions will have to be proactive in drawing some boundaries; burnout is real.”

We Will Adjust, Devising New Ways to Balance Life as Well as We Can

Many who expect the future depicted in the scenario commented that social adjustments will be made to deal with the new realities. Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote that he expects people will “develop tools to isolate personal time more effectively, and only have it pierced when truly urgent—people will come to accept that.”

Howard Rheingold, Internet sociologist, university professor, and author, noted, “We’re beginning to see people finally erecting personal and social boundaries around the use of mobile technologies because the colonization of every sphere of our lives—homes, cars, family life, social events, toilets, movie theaters, concert halls, subways, classrooms—of these devices is beginning to make people angry.”

Mary Ann Allison, principle of The Allison Group, predicted, “We will have adapted to this blurring—which might otherwise be termed integration…and, at the same time, will have many widely used and ‘approved’ time-out activities ranging from ‘no-contact’ vacations to official ‘no-schedule’ times in organizations’ workday structures.”

Rollie Cole, director of technology policy for the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, suggested that the scenario will “not be an unmixed blessing, adding, “I could see a backlash leading to regulations about ‘no-employer-contact’ hours.”

A number of survey participants suggested that the nature of work is going to change for the positive.  “I hope that future work activities will become more creative and fun for people,” wrote Gary Kreps, chair of the department of communication at George Mason University, formerly founding chief of the health communication and informatics branch of the National Cancer Institute.

Dan Larson, CEO of PKD Foundation a non-profit organization working for patient advocacy and education, responded that young workers today are ready to take a healthy approach to a 24/7 work/leisure mix. “Anyone who has hired younger-generation employees knows they are generally unwilling to work the long hours their grandparents did,” he explained. “They don’t sell their soul to the company store. Rather, they value, greatly—their own personal, non-work time and space. With the accelerated pace of everyday life, the importance and value of rest, relaxation, renewal, and diversion from the work world…will only become greater.”

John Jordan, an associate professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, responded, “Blending of work/personal time has been going on for years, and the final removal of the seam is all-but-inevitable. Most of the talk about this right now is focused on how this will result in a loss of personal time: more stress, less time for family, etc. But the other side is just as important, and shows how this likely will balance. Rather than having employers spend time and energy trying to keep employees ‘on task’ and halting them from using company resources for personal use (e.g., browsing Amazon while at work), this barrier will also fall. The focus will be on accomplishing a task, not logging hours. This will make time more flexible for employees, and will allow sufficient management by employers who switch to compensation plans based on work accomplished rather than time spent. This will be a radical new model of employment, but it will happen.”

Ivor Tossell, blogging journalist and technology columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail, notes that modern tools are just evolving to fit the evolution of human desires. “The rhetoric of employment has shifted from conceptualizing it as a means of sustenance to a vehicle for personal fulfillment. More and more people are saying they’d rather work than retire, even if they could afford it. Technology will not drive this change, but it will enable it.”

Connectivity Infiltrates Nature and Architecture; Existing Human Systems Will Be Transformed

Some respondents looked ahead and imagined how human systems might change as hyperconnectivity becomes more prevalent between now and 2020, with its positives and negatives. “Work will be done everywhere, anytime, the barrier between professional and personal time will be fuzzy, and the notion of time will change,” responded Rafik Dammak, a software engineer for STMicroelectronics in Tunisia.

“Large existing bureaucracies will increasingly be challenged by this trend,” commented Ed Lyell, an Internet pioneer in issues regarding education. “Schools, which I study, are already way behind the opportunity presented by even our current Internet world. Children know that learning can take place, anytime, anywhere, and in multiple modalities. Yet we only acknowledge or seem to respect the learning that takes place in a top-down, time-dependent, school system. I first said this 30 years ago, but it becomes more ubiquitous in the future. Formal schooling is often a barrier to an individual’s learning.”

“One of the things I have predicted as a futurist for the last 5 years,” wrote Robin Gunston, consulting futurist for Mariri Consulting, “is a major change in employment contracts as a result of this type of scenario. For effective utilization of scarce human resources we have to free people to work on an outcome basis irrespective of location or time. Many of us already do this as consultants, but the vast majority of information and knowledge workers are hidebound to a desk, a fixed location, and fairly inflexible working hours.”

Kathryn Greenhill, an emerging technologies specialist at Murdoch University, commented, “The integration of personal and professional time, however will result in far fewer children being born to people in professions, as they realize that being ‘always on’ is not compatible with children’s concepts of time and development. Lives will be lived too fast for people to slow down sufficiently to gently nurture.”

Utopia and dystopia are represented in the ideas of the next two respondents’ remarks.

Joe McCarthy, principal instigator at MyStrands and formerly principal scientist at Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto, sees positive outcomes in this realm in years to come. “Concurrent with this shift will be a tendency for people’s professional lives to reflect their personal values—work will become meaningful, and thus will seem less like work because ‘workers’ will be fully engaged in the missions, goals, and activities of their organizations…many of which will increasingly be organizations of size one.”

Mary McFadden, a respondent who chose not to share any other personal identification, predicted the following 2020 scenario: “The individual disappears into the corporation. Work rules and regulates lives and every place is a company town. Resorts holidays become popular by advertizing disconnection. The poor have computers; the rich have teachers. We live longer, but only with the use of drugs and technological upgrades. Our emotions are not our own, but part of pharmaceutical biochemistry created to prevent us from being unhappy or able to recognize that we are out of touch.”

Cite this publication: Lee Rainie and Janna Anderson. “The Future of the Internet III.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 14, 2008) http://www.pewinternet.org/2008/12/14/the-future-of-the-internet-iii/, accessed on July 23, 2014.