Mark Hammer

All of this is predicated on someone’s notion of what “efficiency” consists of, and my experience is that generally those defining “efficiency” have precious little idea of how the folks getting the work done actually DO their jobs, or even what their jobs consist of. They just have an abstract notion of where efficiencies might be found. Just as history is written by the victors, efficiency is defined by those in power with money, not by those on the receiving end.

Millionaire bozos like Branson can spout all they want about the disappearance of offices because that’s what they’d like to have happen. But that doesn’t mean that’s the nature of the work or how it gets done. It’s probably true of some jobs and work, but far from all, for a long time to come. If it was the case that the work to be done changed drastically then I could see the technology accompanying that shift, and interacting with the shift in reciprocal fashion. After all, mass transit really only came into existence when lots of folks had to be in the middle of the city (rather than the middle of the field) to do what was considered “the work to be done”. And once there were buses and subways to downtown, it made sense to locate work there in higher density fashion. If we were all doing the sorts of things that permitted us to work in social isolation with only virtual contact, then I suppose an office might be moot.

But the mere presence of the technological possibility does not alone compel. Personally, I have yet to find any earthly use for a cellphone, and with any luck I’ll go to my grave without ever having had one. The only compelling reason I will ever have for owning one will be the complete disappearance of payphones and landlines. That will happen not because the nature of human communication required it to. It will happen because those who make money from it will deem landlines and payphones insufficiently profitable and impose it on me. Similarly, the nature of the work does not demand that the office be abandoned. Yes, I can look at my work e-mail from home, and I suppose one day I will be able to get files from the shared drive to work on from home, but the work does not require that, nor is it improved by it. The abandonment of the office will be imposed upon us by those who simply don’t understand the nature of the work us mortals do, and assume that because it can hypothetically be done via technology, that it should be done via technology. They will dangle it like junk food before us, and make it seem attractive because they want us to like it, not because it is in any way necessary.

Doofuses like Branson probably haven’t thought about what an officeless society would do to the design of cities, real estate values, transit planning, and such. Imagine what Washington would be like if nobody had an office. I’m not saying I relish 40-storey business towers, but what would we do with the ones we already have? Heck, what would happen to the construction industry and the profession of architecture if we didn’t need office towers? More than likely what would cut costs for Branson and Co. would be devastating for national and regional economies.

Maybe “tsunami” IS the right metaphor. Water is good. Forty foot waves not so much.

And where the heck are Alvin Toffler and Marshall McLuhan when we really need them?