In the company of strangers – My computing office “social life”

A musing of sorts…..

Computing is anti-social.  That statement is still made today although its more a comment for the 80’s/90’s where the idea of being permanently connected (to then a BBS service) was a little rare to say the least.  Messages posted could be read instantly but it wasn’t like it is today with pop-up notifications, IM’s, DM’s and the plethora of options for live chat both with voice and video.

Those days as you plugged away, writing code or playing a text adventure, the idea that you would communicate with another user in real time was uncommon – of course I know we had MUD’s at this time too, but there was little in the way of topics outside those of computing and technology and the audience was certainly far more exclusive, now we have a forum for millions of people to randomly chat about topics with.

Being without a net connection recently (through my own fault of not noticing the DSL filter had become unplugged) I found myself experiencing computing like I did in the 80’s, isolated in front of a computer screen.

I spend alot of time in front of this screen and by its nature my writing does not require input from others such as co-workers.  I have no boss to look over my shoulder and consider my work for the day, I have commitments, but reaching them is no concern of anyone but me…as long as I get there.

I made a remark recently that when the internet was not available to me, my productivity increased.  Lets be honest, we all have been there.  A simple search made in good faith to forward a piece you are writing (for example) can often lead down a trail of discovery of a topic completely unrelated to the task at hand.  You get distracted by flashy links, cryptic headlines, comments made in haste and by the end of your journey you’ve lost a couple of hours with your original search being lost in the ether.  But what happens when you are sat infront of a PC and that is removed.  The thought that you can’t reach out to people on a whim and that its only you and your work.  That’s a lonely experience.

Society is changing, you will have people claiming that the internet is eroding our social skills and to some extent that is true, but for many of us the nature of our work is changing too.  Computers are monitoring factories, work contracts can be dealt with electronically and the idea for many of us to physically go out and do some of these tasks now seems not only to be highly unproductive but slightly old fashioned too.  How many large businesses don’t have a website?  If a movie doesn’t present a flashy trailer on youtube would it get as much attention?  Do you send an internal memo on a piece of paper, handwritten or would you send email so that you know its been read and you have (ironically enough) whats called a paper trail?

I have many distractions online.  Many distractions which prevent me from achieving all that I initially intended when I first sat down.  I see Tweets, emails and DM’s from a plethora of social networks pop up in the corner of my screen and they are like snippets of conversation, caught by my ear when I am reading a paper in a coffee shop.  They distract me, but maybe more importantly remind me that I’m not alone in front of my screen and in doing so can give me inspiration and further motivation for writing what I write.

I thank each and every person who makes a Tweet or a DM, I cherish every single email who’s preview is displayed in the corner of my screen.  Without these distractions, I doubt I would be able to stay in front of the screen long enough to get any work done at all.  The lonely experience is made less lonely and its thanks to the many wonderful people I meet online (or merely read what they write).

Being computer bound writing for yourself is not an anti-social experience, my office is the planet, my co-workers everyone online and for this reason alone the Net is the single biggest motivator of creative and innovative works for all those who rely on it to get their work done.  My office party happens when I’ve completed what I needed to do and I can chat random topics with people from around the world and my happy birthday party is often an automated affair that reminds people within my social network.  Not as sincere as a genuine birthday wish, but at least nobody forgets.

Times are changing, the reliance on computing is increasing.  Lets look at your office.  You trudge to work in all weathers, you sit in an office with people who under normal circumstances you’d have nothing to do with.  There’s the office favourite, the smokers who work less hours for the same money as you and then there’s the politics and backstabbing.  To add insult to injury you suffer all this sitting behind a computer screen anyway. Working at home on the PC still seem so anti-social?

I’ll let you decide.



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