All That is Work Melts Into Air


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Shannon Clark | Flickr

Is the office obsolete — or mutating into something new and wonderful? Backchannel offers views from both sides of the future-of-the-office question in two recent pieces. The rise of “digital nomads,” writes Ben Snyder, accelerated in 2016. Companies in desperate need of talent, particularly in software, have abandoned the old-school idea of gathering everyone in one physical space and accepted that they’re only going to assemble a great team by going to a distributed model.

But wait a second, writes Greg Lindsay: At the same time, we’re seeing a boom in new-model coworking spaces like WeWork. In these offices, traditional behind-the-firewall watercooler culture gets replaced by a more open model that’s still able to take advantage of the dynamics of face-to-face interaction. “WeWork’s great innovation,” Lindsay argues, “was to convince companies of all sizes that sharing an office with hundreds or even thousands of strangers was an opportunity instead of a liability.” This new-style office is more of a “talent platform” that helps entrepreneurs find the skilled collaborators they need.

These trends aren’t in conflict, and they don’t cancel each other out. If anything, they accelerate the larger cycle of change in which old, large-scale business organizations are gradually disintegrating. All of which makes the whole political battle over “moving jobs overseas” less and less meaningful. If jobs can be anywhere, what’s an “American job”? If offices are spread around the world, which nation’s economy do they belong to?

Will Politics Be Mark Zuckerberg’s Next Career?

When Mark Zuckerberg announced that his project for 2017 would be to travel all 50 states and listen to everyday people in each one, it sounded less like a tech CEO’s todo-list item than a political career launch. Is Zuck really thinking about running for office? Could be. He also recently declared that he is no longer an atheist — another milestone on the road to courting the American public. Next stop: kissing babies and holding fundraisers, though in Zuckerberg’s case that may not be necessary.

Still, it’s also possible, as Will Oremus suggests in Slate, that Zuckerberg is simply coming to terms with the fundamentally political nature of leading a company as powerful as Facebook. In many ways he’s already a politician, and these moves suggest he’s decided it’s time to learn how to be a good one.

World (Cyber) War One Might Already Be Underway

Future historians may look back at the election of 2016 as one major battle in the First World Cyberwar (The Guardian). In this thought exercise, Russia’s attack on Estonia in 2007 would be the opening shot, and other key engagements would include the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program, various Wikileaks document dumps, the Sony email hack, and more.

Is it useful to think of our era in this “World Hacking War” frame? Maybe if, as Martin Belam’s article suggests, it helps us think about ways of bringing the chief instigators — the U.S., Russia, and China — to the table to end the free-for-all and put some rules in place. As with more conventional military conflicts, that will only happen if and when the participants realize they’re never going to win and they’d better stop wasting resources.

Next Time, the Pitchforks Will Be Pointed at Tech

Automation, not free trade, is responsible for the disappearance of factory jobs, and increasingly, office jobs, too. If the tech industry isn’t careful, it is going to get blamed when the next wave of populism crests — after the current wave of nativist wall-building subsides. That’s Ross Mayfield’s sobering assessment (Medium): the next Donald Trump is going to point a finger at the tech industry and say, “These are the folks who killed all your jobs.” It won’t be pretty.

Mayfield urges entrepreneurs and makers to push their thinking in the direction of human augmentation and job creation rather than full-on AI-style automation and job elimination. That might not be nearly enough, though. Even better: Tech leaders could show some empathy for the people whose livelihoods are being disrupted — and put some resources into helping them.

Can Universal Basic Income Work? Should It?

As the universal basic income debate grows louder, NewCo Shift offers dueling perspectives: Lenny Mendonca argues that UBI “is absurdly expensive, won’t work and is a disingenuous distraction from the real problems.” If we tackle inequality, housing, education, and healthcare, we’d make UBI unnecessary — and create plenty of new jobs along the way.

A lot of people believe that any UBI scheme will reduce people’s incentive to find work — along with the sense of purpose and meaning that (sometimes) can be found in that work. Samuel Hammond points out that, while cash-transfer programs tied to means tests might have such an impact, truly “universal” income supplements wouldn’t disappear when you get hired — and neither the logic nor the evidence suggests they discourage job hunting. Of course, hunting is one thing, finding another.

Leave a Reply