Joseph Ferenbok for the TRP | May 2021
We have seen, I think, in the wake of this pandemic, the future–one future–of work. A bit extreme, perhaps; a bit unstructured and unimaginative, definitely; but undeniably a mode of technology-assisted working that will be—in some way—integrated into commonplace practice. This is not new. It is not revolutionary. There are academic journals devoted to technology-supported collaborative work. But where before these practices met with Sisyphean resistance from vocal detractors. The pandemic created a situation where choice and preference became irrelevant and the only channels for dissension and debate were technologically assisted working spaces.
The forced transition will not last exactly in its current form but there is no doubt that it has demonstrated benefits and value in certain areas that will be impossible to ignore. Remote work has for many applications has significant value—meetings with reduced time and travel overhead; networking unfettered by distance or even time-zones; informational rather than concrete infrastructure; and even access to expertise unbound by limitations of face-to-face interactions. Remote work, in its wake, has also opened up remote learning—not only the mediated learning practices supported by technology, but also the skills and competencies that need to be learned and honed to learn remotely.
It is clear (to many) that this will no longer be suppressed. Where those of us, who have for years been zealot evangelists of technology-supported learning but have been faced with vehement opposition from those of established minds, we have witnessed a seemingly impossible crossing of the Red Sea that has brought those once enslaved up out of their toils, and out into the desert of possibility. There will continue to be resistors—those wishing to go back; those willing to ignore the lessons learned in favor of a romanticized past. There will be those who will cling to what they understood and grew to know as normal rather than face the challenges and uncertainties of the path again—a crucible journey through a desert of unfamiliar challenges.
It may take a generation—a changing of the guard that, through the journey of 40 years, wins out by attrition—but it is a certainty, that in some iteration the skills associated with working with others, interacting, networking, collaborating, problem-solving, negotiating, mediating, and conflicting with others using mediated presence technologies will be an essential toolkit.
It is a certainty that we must learn to work remotely and learn to learn remotely, and those who begin now to try to optimize the underlining principles of productive interactions, the skills of leveraging global access, the opportunities for thinking differently, these will be the builders and innovators of the next wave.