Friday, May 2, 2008

Implications of Increased Wirelessness

In a recent issue of The Economist, an article titled "Our Nomadic Future," prognosticated that the increased reliance on wireless, easily transportable products is going to change "lives, culture, politics, cities, jobs, even marriages dramatically." With computers and phones (now often the same device) being wireless and work tasks increasingly being relegated to the use of those objects, people are more mobile. Large office spaces with a maze of telephone cords and a labyrinth of cubicles are fast becoming an unnecessary expense. People are telecommuting from home more and more, instead of hassling with traffic jams and parking stresses.

At one time, technology was the key influencer in creating separate locations for home and work. This development led to significant changes in the sociological dynamics of families, communities, and cities as a whole. The separate domains of work life and home life seeped into our worldview perceptions of a public/private bifurcation. Lesslie Newbigin describes the consequences of this:

"The home is no longer the place of work, and the family is no longer the working unit. The way is opened for a deep divide between the public world of work, of exchange, of economics, and the private world that is withdrawn from the world of work and remains under another vision of how things are. In the public world the workers in the factory are related to each other anonymously as units in a mechanical process. They are replaceable parts. They may not even know each other's names. In the home people are known to one another as irreplaceable persons, and their mutual understanding as persons is what constitutes the home. Moreover (at least during the first 150 years of the Industrial Revolution), it was the men who operated the public world of the factory and the market, and the women who were relegated to the private sector. The fissure in society divided the sexes: the man dealt with public facts, the woman with personal values. The man was the producer, the woman the consumer (even though, in fact, she worked as long and as hard in the home as her man worked in the office or the factory). Today's feminism, which is characteristic of modern—as distinct from traditional—societies, represents in part the revolt of women against these distortions." (Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, 31)

This development does not mean that a complete reverse is on the horizon. We can't return to a pre-industrial era, rather we are entering a post-industrial era. Nevertheless, one must be mindful of the consequences of this transition. The mobility of those working is going to have ramifications on family life and community. The article in The Economist has observed that traffic patterns are already changing from rush hour to "daisy-chain" patterns. Parents will find themselves around their kids more, but may find that they are more distracted than ever due to ever-present connectedness to the "office." What will the sociological, and even epistemological, ramifications of this change hold for us?

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