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Eventually computers will allow people to work from home. Is this desirable ?

 

The answer is that computers already allow some people to work from home, though clearly this cannot apply to more than a limited number of people and a limited number of occupations. As to whether this is desirable, the answer is philosophical as well as practical.

Computers, both analog and digital, have developed out of all recognition since the Second World War, when they were large, mechanical, and limited in use. They were then used in conjunction with radar for missile guidance and also for code breaking and a small range of mathematical functions. Most of those functions are now available in a child's pocket calculator. The application of electronics in the 50s followed by the use of the silicon chip and pre-printed circuits widened the computer's function out of all recognition, permitting a myriad series of voltage controls. The computer today is powerful, compact and relatively small. It combines readily with word-processing, faxing, and the electronic creation of screen graphics, which can be modified either by keyboard control or by electronic pen. The analog computer rapidly solves differential equations for civil and mechanical engineering problems. The digital computer with it's card punching function permits access to data banks, and allows the processing of records and all the kinds of work connected with bills, orders, wages, VAT etc. The computer today is integral in the world of business, commerce, design, word-processing and industry in general. Any organization from the small business upwards keeps a computer to which remote terminals may be linked, giving access at a distance to all it's functions and information.

The need for all white-collar workers to do a nine-to-five job in the office has disappeared. Today it is obviously possible for all workers down to lower-management level to work from home, and as computers continue to develop it is likely that firms will find it convenient to let an increasing number do so. Whether this is a desirable change is a moot point.

Some visionaries anticipate the day when computers, in combination with robotry, will totally eliminate the need for work as we know it. This may theoretically become possible, though in any event computers could never quite eliminate the need for maintenance groups. To most of us, however, such a prospect would be appalling. Leisure only has value by reason or it's contrast with work, and the instinct to work is a built-in part of the human makeup. The past millenia have not adjusted our genes in this direction for nothing.

A more likely scenario is that a much higher proportion of workers will eventually be able to operate from home. Of course, many people have always done so. The writer, the painter, the sculptor either work in the study or in an adjacent studio. Even the professional musician practices at home. Some of these are reclusive by nature, others not.

The majority of people are naturally gregarious. To produce their best they need both the company of others, and the 'atmosphere' of work. There is an instinct to go out to the job, and with all save workaholics. to be able to draw a clear line between work and leisure. The benefits of doing so are obvious. Easy association with others is confidence building. Ideas improve and extend as they are exchanged. You cannot get the 'feel' of a firm or institution at long range. If you have any responsibility at all you need to be in personal touch with managers and directors, not for ever using the telephone or the fax machine. And what about the social side, the friends made, the office party, the human element ?

To work in public demands a certain standard of dress and personal care. It would need more self-discipline than many people have to keep up the same standards at home. Self-discipline and the observance of good routines may come easily to some, but not all.

The reality of today's work-pattern is that when children are of school age wives also take on paid employment. Perhaps the wife also would have a computer terminal and all the paraphernalia of a modern office? Would they share facilities or duplicate equipment? How many flats and small houses have even one room which could be turned into an office? Who would make the coffee, cook the meals, collect the children, do the shopping and the housework? One can foresee many sources of domestic discord!

Computers may change. Human nature does not. As a tool, the computer is vulnerable to the enemy, industrial or personal. Hackers can wipe out records unless there is duplicated soft-ware backup kept under lock and key. Hackers can introduce a virus.

The more one considers the implications of working from home the less desirable the project seems to be.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
 
 

 

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