I just finished my first draft for a report I had to write on the changing nature of work. The stuff is very broad and general, and in layman's terms but some of you may be interested and have a few points to add:
The Changing Nature of Work
What is work?
What exactly is work? What characteristics does an activity need to posses in order to qualify as work? The way we perceive work changes as much as the work we do. In some ways this perception is the symptom of a change in the way we work, in some ways it is the cause.
Ever since the days when we were largely hunter-gatherers, we have gradually created more sophisticated tools and resources for survival. Our jobs have gradually become more specialised. This higher degree of specialisation has given us more opportunity to pursue a career that interests us. We have built an economy in which we work, but work means more than earning a living. Work is about creating a lifestyle; it isn't just our day-job. When we make art in our spare time we are working. When we negotiate with car salesmen, we are also working. It is clear that there is no one simple definition of work.
Work and Play: The Great Separation Is Closing
Work has traditionally been hard to integrate with leisure time and time at home. This was particularly frustrating for intellectual work, because the worker would often have to be at an office just to produce intangible information, when there was no real physical need for it. This has changed.
With the advent of computing and networking at home and office, it has become more and more viable to do a lot of work remotely. By telecommuting, people can send "paperwork" to an office, send an invoice to a client and even hold conferences. Having less physical boundaries often translates into less time limitation, and ideally would allow for more efficient work.
Digital Information: The Machines Understand it Too!
Well, not quite, but it is interpretable to a degree. Humans are good at making complex judgements and simply recognising faces, but are not as good at many tasks done in the workplace such as searching and replacing a phrase in a document. These are the tasks we now have computers for. Before digital information of some sort became the usual authoring format for a document, we used typewriters, pens and paper. For the most part, these things are only readable by humans, and therefore we can't get as much help from machines.
Ever since the first mechanical number calculators, there have been machines that can do certain tasks better than us. Now as microchips are "smarter", and the data we send through them (software) has become better suited for a variety of tasks, we can finally reap the benefits in certain areas by processing the things we used to write, draw or graph on paper.
With standardisation and uniformity, we can take our intellectual work everywhere, and it will have less transport and interpretation requirements than hard copy did. Our work will be easier and more flexible, thus enabling it to be better integrated with leisure time.
Ideally, the work we do is something that interests us and is a part of our lives. If we are overly structured and regimented doing the things we like such as going for walks or watching films, we enjoy them less and they become more of a chore. Even a dream job has moments when the task at hand does not suit us at the time.
By having a better way of working, one where time and place is controlled primarily by us, not our employees and clients, we can enjoy it more and make it a bigger part of our life as a whole. This nature of work promotes more incentive and less burden, meaning we have fresher approaches to tasks, and do an overall better job. As time goes by and technology is better integrated with us, our day-jobs will become our livelihoods.
That's all. I'll start writing more and commenting here on Slashdot as soon as I can find the time.