“I’m on the phone!”
When mobile phones first appeared, this meaningless phrase was heard everywhere. We were all amazed that you could actually make a phone call FROM ANYWHERE! We just couldn’t stop doing it.
“Hello it’s me,” I said to my wife, excitedly, “I’m calling you from the pub!”. This was my first mobile phone call. I’d borrowed the handset from a more senior colleague in BT, thrilled at the novelty of making a call from where I was standing. My wife was rather nonplussed by the event, as I recall.
As mobile phones percolated down the hierarchy, people were keen to show their new status symbol. A new catchphrase punctuated the evening commute, “I’m on the train”, as people phoned home to break this earth shattering news before they got to their station and it was too late.
Everywhere you went, moments of peace and quiet were shattered by people having phone calls and sharing inane or inappropriate conversations in equal measure, often speaking with exaggerated tones to show how important they were.
Now, everyone has a phone and hardly anyone uses it to make phone calls.
What does this tell us?
That anyone who says they know what the future of work will be like is not only wrong but they are advertising their ignorance.
That projecting the paradigms we have now onto a new landscape will lead you to erroneous, and possibly dangerous, conclusion about what to do.
That what is novel today will be commonplace tomorrow and eventually irrelevant.
The move away from calls on mobile phones began with text messages. Text messaging was a bit of an accident. It was added to the mobile telephony standard as an afterthought. Originally intended as a way of sending engineering messages, it was cooked up by a group of engineers over dinner one evening at a standards meeting and put into the standard the next day.
It first became popular in Japan, as a way for teenagers to communicate with each other without their parents knowing. Traditional Japanese houses are quite small and have paper walls, so voice calls would be overheard. They also had only one phone, connected by landline and controlled by the parents. Texting from a mobile was the perfect solution.
The future of work will develop in the same random, unexpected and unpredictable way. We don’t know, we can’t know, what it will be.
What we can do is try to discern what the influencing factors are, what their relative importance is, how these multiple forces might interact with each other and what possibilities might emerge. We can dream a little, create some stories about what a future might look like, speculate and debate them. And maybe gain enough insight to guide us through the next few months.
Now that’s something that I am up for. If you’d be interested in that too, give me a call.
On my mobile, of course. I’ll be on the train …