Voice Card  -  Volume 31  -  John Card Number 11  -  Sun, Apr 3, 1994 11:25 PM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to VC 31 Paul 7 ("Cyberspace today")...

In his very interesting card on Cyberspace Paul describes his vision of the perfect work situation, essentially living in a remote place and doing most of your work via computer.

This, of course, comes very close to describing the situation I lived in for five years, the years during which Archipelago was born.

I count those years among the happiest and most rewarding of my life, but I can't really recommend that lifestyle for most people. And for me, five years were quite enough. I'm much happier now with my work-life here in the big city.

For one thing, I don't think most people really enjoy solitude (except in small, controlled doses). Writers tend to be an exception, but even most writers would shy away from a true hermitage. Paul, who enjoys backpacking by himself for days at a time, is also an exception. I suspect, though, that if Paul got his wish and moved into Canyon Creek (or wherever) full time, even he would not be as happy as he might imagine.

Work is a fundamentally social activity and the pleasures derived from work are not possible outside the context of a rich social interaction. Telecommuting, at least within the boundaries of our current technology, only works up to a point. As any one who has had to work within a group can attest, there is simply no substitute for face to face meetings.

It's not just a matter of the misunderstandings that arise in the absence of facial gestures and non-verbal information. There is also the kind of bonding that takes place during a shared meal, and all the implications of sharing the same physical space, of being in the same boat. As our connections with our fellow workers fade, so does our sense of purpose and motivation. Working at a distance is every bit as perilous as a long-distance love affair. There are exceptions, but as a rule of thumb it just doesn't work.

Intensely creative work like writing or programming requires a certain amount of solitude, but even here the work loses all meaning and value if separated from a larger social context. We write and program in order to reach other people. If we remove ourselves too far from these other people, our muse falls silent and our work falters.

In these days of traffic and congestion, Paul's vision of working from a mountain cottage or seaside hut seems idyllic to many people. And as my earlier card on our Alexander projects attests, this can work up to a point. But as a former cyber-hermit I can attest that this vision overlooks the many subtle but important nuances that make work worth doing and life worth living.