People going to work in factories and offices is a relatively recent invention. For most of human history, people have worked from, or very near to, their home.
But working from home these days is qualitatively different, because we have the internet, as Sarah Jaffe points out in a recent newsletter:
Freelancing is a strange way to work, not because self-supervised labor in the home doesn’t have a long history that well predates leaving your house to go to a workplace, but because it relies so much on communication with the outside. I’m waiting on emails from editors and so I am writing to you, my virtual water-cooler companions.
The internet, then, serves to make work less isolated. I have chats going a lot of the day, unless I’m in super drill-down writing mode, which is less of my job than many people probably expect. My friends have helped me figure out thorny issues in a piece I’m writing and helped me figure out what to write in an email to an editor who’s dropped off the face of the earth and advised me on how much money to ask for. It’s funny, there are so many stories about the way the internet is making us lonely and isolated, and it is sometimes my only human contact. My voice creaked when I answered the phone this morning because I hadn’t yet used it today.
The problem is that capitalism forces us into a situation where we’re competing with others rather than collaborating with them:
How do we use technology to connect and communicate rather than compete? How do we have conversations that further our understandings of things?
I don’t actually think it’s solely a technology problem, although every technology has inbuilt biases. It’s also a problem to be solved at the societal ‘operating system’ level through, for example, co-owning the organisation for which you work.
Source: Sarah Jaffe