Silicon Valley — of all places — is suffering from future shock

Alvin Toffler, the recently deceased futurist who authored the bestselling book Future Shock, is credited with coining that term. As Toffler defined it, it’s the psychological reaction to too much change over a short period of time. The mind protects itself by effectively putting on blinders to block out the change it’s not yet ready to accommodate.

Not long after Future Shock was published in 1970, a Los Angeles aerospace engineer had a brainstorm while stuck in that city’s infamous traffic congestion. What if companies could set up satellite offices connected with data lines in communities where workers live so they can avoid getting on the freeway each workday, Jack Nilles thought. With that, Nilles conceived of a novel transportation demand technique — what he was to call “telecommuting” — to take the place of vehicular commuting to jobs that continues to plague L.A. and other large metro areas today. The idea didn’t catch on right away. Nilles attributed it to societal shock to the revolutionary notion that people could avoid commuting daily to an office distant from their home communities. After all, people “go to” work, don’t they? How could that be possible?

Today, nearly a half century later, that future shock not only continues but has intensified with the advances in information and communications technology (ICT). Many of those innovations were hatched in Silicon Valley and make it possible to perform knowledge work in the satellite offices envisioned by Nilles but also in home offices, libraries, coffeehouses and virtually anyplace with good Internet connectivity. Still, Silicon Valley companies like Google, Apple and Facebook continue to insist everyone show up at their corporate mega campuses each workday. The rationale is it’s necessary to have staff co-located in order to collaborate. It stems from Silicon Valley’s founding as a technology manufacturing center where people worked in “plants” operated by Hewlett Packard, Intel and Apple Computer.

That’s less the case now with nearly all manufacturing offshored and the aforementioned advances in ICT that facilitate both real time and non real time collaboration. Ideas can occur and be exchanged with colleagues whenever and wherever they germinate. The “everyone must be on campus in order to collaborate” rationalization is a symptom of future shock. Ironically manifesting in Silicon Valley of all places.

One thought on “Silicon Valley — of all places — is suffering from future shock

  1. Ironic indeed! Among the organizations most resistant to telecommuting have been newspapers and IT companies (IBM and AT&T excepted). The herd instinct prevails over reason (and economics) — even after more than 40 years of evidence to the contrary.

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