Could working online change the way we live, buy and plan our lives in the very near future?
Douglas Rushkoff predicts jobs will become obsolete. He writes about people working but not having jobs. It’s a fascinating read, but what if working online could change everything? What if the single biggest change in how we work, live and earn is staring us right in the face and we barely know it?
I moved to London when I was 20 years old. I was told, like most of my friends, that if you wanted to be somebody and do all the cool shit, you needed to move to a city. I imagine most of New York is the same, Paris and Los Angeles, too. When you move to a city, you adjust a lot of your expectations. You pay more for almost everything, and while you tend to earn more, you expect to save a lot less. At the same time, you meet the wildest people you’ve ever met and you learn a million new things along the way. It’s a price most of us were (and still are) willing to pay.
The vast majority of salaries are based on the cost of living. You earn more in London than in Berlin. A New York City salary is higher than a Spokane salary. And so it should be. The costs of living in New York City are vastly higher than the cost of having a good life in Spokane. But what happens when people working in New York don’t necessarily need to be in New York? What happens when they can work from anywhere? Do they choose to stay in New York, or do they choose to live somewhere cheaper? A company could, theoretically, pay that person less, saving them money and in return that person could live wherever they choose (assuming they don’t choose London or New York, that is).
Let’s imagine for a minute that you could earn a city salary outside of the city. Let’s imagine you lived in, say, North Portugal, and you were renting a six bedroom house for less than a studio apartment in London. Let’s imagine your friends lived in the same region of Portugal, having moved there on your recommendation. Let’s imagine you clubbed together and rented an old church building and converted it into a space to work from. Let’s imagine others see what you’re up to and they join you. That either sounds like perfection or like a European Mad Max. Moving to Portugal to convert a church certainly isn’t for everyone, but even leaving the city to create a vibrant creative economy in a small isolated town is a brilliant step towards cheaper, more creative living.
Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Thailand, France, Scotland, Africa. What if your only indicator was that it had to be cheap? The world would be your oyster. The list of fantastic places to live and work is nearly endless. What if your friends could do the same? Teachers, writers, customer service managers, planners, marketeers, all able to join together, pick a place, and populate. You could give new boosts of life to villages or towns, suddenly filled with talent, enthusiasm and income. You could invent how you wanted to live; become a master of your own domain.
And this, however unlikely it may seem, would change everything. Property prices would begin to fluctuate. Struggling local schools (if they’re not all online by this point) could be regenerated. Local economies (bakeries, farms) would have new customers and the beautiful yet abandoned towns of economic hard times would again be filled with life. You could earn less, but live more. You could make decisions based on the community you wantto join and the friends you want to be around. You could reinvigorate towns, and forests, and co-working spaces in the unlikeliest of places. And most of all, we could strive to live happier, healthier lives. We could grow our own food and take more time to be outdoors. We could once and for all abandon office cubicles.
Idealistic? Maybe. But I’m optimistic of the possibilities of even putting 10% of jobs online. They say you would get lonely, but with offices looking like this, can we get any lonelier? We could get back to community, rather than run away from it. They say you can’t reproduce people in a room working together, but with teams as dysfunctional as they are and most offices not communicating properly, working online could in fact reduce the politics and create happier, more productive teams. We are still missing the great piece of remote working technology that helps us do this. If Facebook is changing how people manage their relationships (perhaps that’s questionable), where is Facebook for work? (Please don’t say LinkedIn, we can do better).
The future of work is still very much up for grabs. Putting jobs online could not only reduce costs and ridiculous office needs, but give people happier lives where they make choices for themselves. Open that up to the whole world and that’s a revolution in the work economy.