How Instant Information is Changing How We WorkMarch 17, 2016 6:00 am ·
In the 1930’s H.G. Wells predicted the invention of a “World Brain”: an all-encompassing, constantly maintained Encyclopedia possessing the veritable sum of all human knowledge. The advent of the internet fulfilled Wells’ prediction in many ways and brought innovations, conveniences and novelties that even he couldn’t have dreamed of. Our cellphones alone seem to be capable of addressing our every whim; from video communication, answering complex questions, satellite navigation, to showing us what our pets would look like as babies. In short, we get what we want, and we get it quickly.
Naturally, such rapid technological progress has had dramatic effects on the way we work. Many doctors now offer virtual consultations, mechanics and craftsmen can print virtually any part they desire, while crowdfunding and sites like Etsy have empowered inventors and artists alike. More specifically, the mobility, efficiency and sheer amount of content that the internet offers has profoundly reshaped the way most of us work.
Thanks to the prominence of cell phones, innovative collaboration software and increasing wi-fi availability, the geographical boundaries of the modern workplace are fading, and as time passes and the tech improves, more employers are discovering the viability of a flexible workspace.
Research shows that working remotely not only allows for better sleep and increased productivity, but it actually saves money for both businesses and their employees. This explains why nearly 40% of employed Americans have or currently do work from home. Even professionals who tend to work at work are getting used to the idea of remaining in touch with the office and attending meetings remotely when unable to make it in. Meanwhile, our increased mobility has freelancers taking to the roads, combining work and vacation, while those of us who continue to work in the office begin to see trends like unassigned desks and outdoor days.
A word of advice:
While your math teacher may have been wrong when saying that you wouldn’t always have a calculator in your pocket to rely on, the point stands that in regards to what we learn, we must “use it or lose it.” One must take care not to curb valuable, growth-spurring behavior for the sake of convenience. Even with a myriad of collaboration tools available, there are times — especially for creatives — when in-person interaction is preferable.
The fact is, while remote work may be generally beneficial for individuals, fragmentation of a team for an extended amount of time can have a negative impact on collaborative momentum and morale. Some activities (inspired brainstorming, initial introductions and hands-on collaboration, for example) tend to be more fruitful when all parties are physically present. In addition, being too available can lead to a blurring of the lines between our personal and professional lives. Establishing firm but reasonable boundaries with employers will prove helpful for those who need to disconnect and recharge at the end of a busy day.
The ways in which technology has increased our efficiency in the workplace are numerous. Office desks and corridors are no longer clogged with groaning, grey machines, and resources like Google Drive and Dropbox give us access to virtually limitless storage space at all times. This digital expansion of our biological hard drives has freed the tech industry from the grief of scratched CD-Rs and lost thumb-drives, allowing us to better focus on the meat of our work.
Technology has also made efficiency more measurable. Where progress was once marked by milestones on a calendar, it is now marked by minutes, and detailed metrics gathered by any number of time tracking products allow organizations to fine tune their processes to increase productivity.
To get a good idea of the sheer number of services offered by our phones and computers to make our jobs quicker and easier, just consider a pile made up of the devices that have been rendered obsolete: wristwatches, audio recorders, calculators, credit card scanners, phone books, atlases, encyclopedias, cameras, calendars, newspapers, alarm clocks, timers, flashlights, typewriters, phone booths, countless books and their shelves, camcorders, thumb-drives, televisions, and all the various video players. Now, gaze upon your phone in awe, like it was the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A word of advice
The very tools that aim to improve efficiency can actually hamper it if used without tact. Incoming emails, for example, can be a serious distraction if good email management is not practiced. Also, expectations of quick results can produce hurried, clumsy work, so it is valuable to maintain an ongoing conversation as to when quick solutions are preferable versus a more delicately thought out approach.
There was a time, mere decades ago, when researchers and students would have to go on lengthy road trips in order to access documents critical to their work, and when the archive or library closed, they were out of luck until the next morning. Today, search engines give us access to virtually limitless information at all hours of the day. In fact, as of 2014, the digital universe contained approximately 4.4 zettabytes (or 4.4 trillion gigabytes!) of information, and this number is projected to grow tenfold by the year 2020.
Mobile apps like Siri and Assistant will answer questions and do your bidding without even requiring you to look at the screen, while bustling forums and chatrooms exist for seemingly every topic imaginable. By connecting individuals from all parts of the globe and facilitating discussions that could never have occurred in the pre-internet age, these tools have effectively eliminated the geographical barriers that once prevented instantaneous global discourse and collaboration.
A word of advice
As handy as tools like Google may be, there are some drawbacks to having access to tremendous amounts of information at all hours of the day. Mindless distractions and unreliable resources lurk around every corner and cleverly compete for our attention. This not only poses a threat to productivity, but it actually changes the way our brains work for better and worse.
Research shows that constant access to information and a general reliance on technology has altered the parts of our brain responsible for our attention spans and memory. This means that we should take care and unplug from time to time. Activities like reading, yoga, exercise and mindfulness meditation can be helpful in preserving our attention spans, and the memorization of song lyrics, poems and passages can help keep your rote memory from going the way of the payphone.
Most importantly, don’t let the zettabytes of content discourage you from creating and contributing to the vast ocean of knowledge that is the internet. Because, while it may be discouraging to Google a new idea only to find that many others have already toyed with it, the constant addition of unique perspectives based on individual experience will only further enrich the vast collaborative landscape that is the world wide web.
Those of us in the tech industry are well acquainted with fast paced, deadline-focused projects and know that experienced advice can help us overcome otherwise daunting obstacles with ease. Thankfully, services like the new Live by Experts Exchange are available to provide instant connections with tech professionals of various disciplines and across all time zones. Come check it out and get your first five minutes for free.