Realizing the Imagination of Arthur C. Clarke

Back in the 1960s, futurist Arthur C. Clarke was interviewed about the implications of a computer-dependent society. The video appears in the beginning of the “Jobs” movie.

In an unrehearsed way, Arthur C. Clarke, co-writer of the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, lays out the blueprint for an interconnected global society living remotely.

The implications of having a computer in your pocket for e-Commerce and finance have been monumental. The ability, for some of us, to work remotely has opened the door to unimagined gains in productivity, creativity, and (in my case at least) a reduced carbon footprint from driving back and forth to parking lots.While it is easy to point out the unavoidable need for concentrations of capital and labor to make this possible- data centers, sources of energy to power those data centers, labor to produce that energy, electrical linesman to upgrade and repair systems, etc.- it is worth acknowledging that there are psychological and ecological benefits to end consumers.

For example, moving money and ordering common home products has never been easier. Now instead of having to schedule time to shop for toilet paper, canned foods, pet foods, cereals, etc. many people are simply having them delivered. Not to mention the implications for going to the store to try on clothes.

Time saved shopping is time that can now be used for recreation, productivity, creativity, etc. If, like me, you find shopping a somewhat mundane activity this can be a real benefit. Instead of wondering what time to go to avoid traffic I simply hit the button on my phone and move on with my life.

This should have real implications for peace of mind if people use their time wisely. For example, studies have shown that one of the things that keeps people in poverty is time spent trying to conserve capital. The problem is that too much time is spent shopping for bargains, increasing psychological stress, and leading to worse decisions in the future. In fact, many well-off European countries are now floating the idea of a “minimum income” to compensate unemployed and impoverished citizens, because of the mathematical reality to this problem.

For someone like me who has dabbled in user experience, this problem goes by another name in design circles- “choice diffusion”. Create too many choices for consumers who are shopping under time constraints (think purchasing departments at a business) and they may leave your site altogether- frustrated with how much time it takes to find what they were looking for.

Time is the one thing we all possess in common that has infinite value, but also limiting factors- the need for sleep, the need for food consumption, the need for inactivity- which increase its value in certain situations. For example, if you operate under a “tight schedule” you may be increasing your psychological stress. Not only do you not have cooked meals, (“fast food” consumption does save us time after all), which can affect your mood and cognition, but feeling as though you “have to be” somewhere can place an unnecessary burden on your long-term happiness.

Might the implication of a platform like WordPress, the proliferation of coding and content creation skills, and the increasing investment in infrastructure that supports an internet enable millions to transcend brick and mortar bodies to realize a digital soul? I know that is hyperbole, but increasingly for businesses the answers is yes.

Cloud computing enables us to work on teams remotely. File management can be stored redundantly on as many hard drives or servers as you want. While shipping and packaging will always require a physical plexus the duplicate efforts involved in data entry can and are automated from the instant a customer checks out on a website. This frees up a limited amount of labor to be more productive- and less stressed.

While the obvious misuses of time abound, we should embrace the opportunities we are given to participate on a platform like WordPress in this moment of time, and not shrink from making it a more secure, more productive, and more beneficial contribution to the internet than a mere social networking distraction that has led to us questioning whether our election was hacked by bots from foreign shores.

While Facebook and Twitter offer real benefits for connecting to people over distance and sharing news, they are not a substitute for time well spent in-person. As Arthur C. Clarke said about a computer-dependent society: “it will also enrich our society, allowing us to live anywhere we like.”

If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work on WordPress and live remotely- make the most of your time.