CIO Confidential: Telecommuting Is not the Solution to Bad Traffic

By Anonymous
Sun, April 15, 2001

CIO — A friend sent me an article he’d clipped from the Jan. 11 Christian Science Monitor, something about Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and how it still resonates 33 years later. Spare me. A tiny article on the back of the clipping, however, did catch my eye. It told of a 25 watt lightbulb that had been burning continuously for the past 70 years in the restroom of an Ipswich, England, electrical shop.

The story isn’t so remarkable because of this particular, perversely persistent lightbulb but because this particular bit of technology made 70 years ago is still compatible with 21st century systems. It’s a reminder that things in their quintessential form--be they technology, processes or even ideas--if left unmolested, can and do last a very long time. And furthermore, despite the hype, real, honest-to-God, life-altering, bell-ringing change has actually been decelerating when viewed over a period of, say 100 to 120 years. The fact is, the gadgets that fill our homes and hang from our belts are merely the sheen of technology, and our boasts of rapid and miraculous change are actually little more than the narcissism of small differences.

I happen to live near one of the epicenters of the high-tech scramble, or at least what’s left of it. The city is, at once, awash in money and suffering a nearly complete breakdown of infrastructure and services under the crush of immigration by huddled masses in Range Rovers. The newcomers crowd into prairie mansion ghettos in ever widening circles around a commercial hub. Consequently, the traffic situation between 5:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. is a disaster, and there are currently no new major roadways under construction to relieve the problem.

The city council, recently back in session after a two week sabbatical presumably spent hugging trees and rereading Mao’s Little Red Book, has jumped all over this issue by proposing an ordinance that would require companies of a certain size and type to have at least 10 percent of their workforce telecommuting by the end of 2001. It has even been suggested that the number should rise to 25 percent by the end of 2003. These city councilors are not as dumb as they look. Why engage the problem head-on when you can lay it off on the private sector, the productivity and profitability of which is not your concern?

It’s not that telecommuting isn’t a superficially popular notion. It’s difficult to find a manager, particularly those having an impossible time recruiting, to admit publicly to his desire to rein in this nontrend, especially in the light of all the excitement fabricated by media and marketing organizations.

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