Interconnectivity – the Power of Accumulating Communication Technologies
This article was a writing submission from Bailey Marsheck for the 2018 International Conference’s writing competition; it received 1st place and was published in Business Today’s 50th Anniversary Magazine.
In a world increasingly saturated with communication technologies, innovations as commonplace today as an Apple iPhone are pushing traditional office jobs by the wayside through unprecedented levels of interconnectivity. Ambient coffee shops are replacing office buildings as workplaces of choice for the growing number of workers tied only to their laptops and a Wi-Fi signal. It’s not just physical workspaces that are altered; our concept of “work” today is different than it was in past generations. Remote work has sparked the rise of small online businesses and the “gig economy.” All of this is made possible by the unassuming technologies all around us, likely in your pocket or open in front of you right now.
The revolutionary nature of today’s communication technologies stems directly from their joint utility. Accumulating compatible technologies is invaluable. While innovations like smartphones, laptops, mobile/internet networks, and “Internet of Things” technology are incredible inventions in their own right, their usefulness is multiplied exponentially when used in conjunction with each other. Smartphones have altered our conception of work far more drastically than the pager ever did, due to their seamless integration with other connective technologies like mobile networks and smart sensors. Employees can take meetings, write work correspondences, and utilize work-related mobile applications at dizzying speeds. Furthermore, smartphones are most beneficial when coworkers are using complementary tools with matching tenacity. Mobile computing and wireless networks together reimagined the limits of the modern workplace; wireless hotspot technology pushed these limits to the edges of cellular service availability.
More and more Americans each year have reported working remotely, a trend likely to reverberate globally with the diffusion of communication technology around the world. Establishing home offices or working flexibly grants workers far more than the ability to help out at home or take off early for weekend getaways. Many experts argue that remote work actually boosts worker productivity. Studies show that remote employees are capable of working more efficiently and report higher levels of happiness. The business world is certainly aware of these productivity benefits, evidenced by the many internet articles and TED talks advocating for remote work. Just about any office function can now be done remotely, even carrying out international business trips. Companies like Beam sell robots for such purposes; their product is essentially a video conferencing screen mounted on a stand with wheels for navigation.
Beyond helping established companies produce more efficiently than ever before, businesses once considered nonviable have flourished due to connective technological innovations. Entrepreneurs manage a variety of online businesses on the go, creating a new stratum of “businesspeople” building lucrative social media, video-sharing, and gaming empires. A close childhood friend of mine fits this new mold, discovering a passion for playing video games and sharing his gameplay online. While this would have amounted to a distracting habit in years past, the capacity of connective technologies to link people around the world allowed him to build a sizeable online following. He converted his audience into membership on a well-known gaming team; sponsorships; a house in Los Angeles; millions of social media followers; and ultimately, a full-time job. As a businessman who manages his brand and multiple revenue streams, he’s working his dream job made possible only in today’s age of interconnectivity.
With a new ability to provide specialized services all around the world from the comfort of one’s home, the workforce today is increasingly composed of independent contract workers who have temporary assignments. Freed from a set working location by connective technologies, individuals contract remotely or travel the world to visit clients. Around 20% of Americans today are contractors within this “gig economy,” and experts believe that contract workers could eventually represent half the population. There are, of course, positives and negatives to this work style. Contractors don’t receive employment benefits and aren’t guaranteed secure employment. Companies instead hire temporary workers to fill very specific roles, healthy for profit margins but threatening to full-time employees.
What do interconnectivity-driven changes mean for businesses? Like any transitionary period, there will be those who resist and wish things to continue as they once did. Less technologically-adept workers fear losing their jobs or having their work rendered obsolete. Others question whether constant interconnection is healthy for society. Whatever the criticism, technological resistors don’t deny that the future of work is poised to look drastically different.
For the most part, those who ignore new, productivity-boosting technologies will fall behind. They will lose market share as they see competitors benefit, whether it be by hiring cheap, specialized contract workers or attracting better talent by allowing flexible, remote working hours. Marketing strategies are shifting as technology users consume media anywhere and everywhere. Many traditional enterprises are buying into new media platforms like YouTube or Twitter, either utilizing these platforms themselves or purchasing ad sponsorships.
How can technology advocates fully embrace the future of work? We can help those left behind by the work revolution adapt with technological re-training programs, making interconnectivity more universally beneficial. We need to promote the global spread of communication technologies because the dynamic power of connection strengthens as more people use it. Developing countries are not yet as interconnected as the wealthier ones; world citizens currently inaccessible through networks have unique skills to offer the global economy. We must keep innovating, as some of the greatest connective technologies are still to come.
Comfortingly, some work aspects will remain familiar as the workplace takes a new form. Old skill sets won’t disappear completely. Some industries like retail are less conducive to remote work. Relationship management expertise is still vital for client-facing personnel even though meetings increasingly take place over audio or video conferencing. While many children idealize the life of a video game live streamer, the world will always need engineers and accountants. You just may not find them in an office for much longer.
Bailey is a rising senior at UC San Diego majoring in International Economics and minoring in Chinese Studies. He particularly enjoys writing and believes he will utilize it heavily throughout his career. He has previously interned at a think tank in Washington, D.C. and in both the American and Chinese private sectors. A strong believer in giving back to the community, Bailey works with a local dog shelter and a non-profit striving to improve education for children in rural Nepal.