Your Office Is In Your Pants: How The Smart Phone Is Changing The Way We Live And Work

Office Space/Screen capture
Back in the day most people went to work in an office to get the phone on a landline, access to papers and files, and a place to put the red swingline. But do you really any more?

Two years ago I wrote about how the smart phone was going to change the way we work , claiming Your office is in your pants. I noted that soon, you would be able to do almost everything that you used to need an office for on your phone. It appears that time has actually arrived.

Christopher Mims recently wrote a post where he listed all of the things that his iPhone has replaced, which included the obvious ones like books, cameras and GPS devices, but also the nitty gritty basics of his job like his reporters' notebook, voice recorder, receipt file, and even business card. His office is in his pants. He writes:

Looking further into the future, there is the very real possibility that our phones will quite simply become our default computing hubs. And by computing, I mean just about everything with a chip in it.

I think he's right, and that it is going to have huge implications for the way we live and work, they way we plan our cities and the way we build our homes.

© Ace Hotel Lobby/ CONTESSANALLY

1. The smart phone will change the way we work even more than the notebook computer did.

I previously wrote In the Future, Everything Will Be A Coffee Shop, and noted that the traditional functions of the office, the fixed telephone line and big photocopier and even fixed computer were no longer needed or wanted. The office was becoming a place to schmooze, to meet people, to gather around a table. Like a coffee shop. And yet when people gather around a table in a group for a meeting, what are they doing? Sneaking a look at their smart phones and wishing they were away working on their own and not in this stupid meeting. Many management websites recommend banning technology in meetings, without recognizing that people are using them for a reason.

Others actually use coffee shops as their offices, or as the case may be, the lobby of the Ace Hotel in the photo above. The office becomes more like a coffee shop and the coffee shop more like an office every day.

But what the coffee shop is really offering, besides a place to get away from home, is a flat surface to place a notebook and a wifi connection. You don't need that with a smartphone. Furthermore, what happens when Siri gets better, and the powerful web-connected dictation technology that's in the new Apple operating system becomes the standard way of working, and replaces the keyboard completely? As an experiment, I dictated this paragraph to Siri; it was tedious and I can type faster, but that is, I am certain, a temporary phenomenon.

Will we see the return of the phone booth?/Screen capture

You can't have a noisy coffee shop model with everybody mumbling into their phones. We might find that the collective spaces where we gather to work no longer are conducive to it; we now want quiet corners where we can mumble in peace. We may see the return of the telephone booth as the new workspace.

© Apple/ Foster + Partners

2. If there are going to be offices, then Apple Headquarters are going to be the model.

I have been reviled in comments for my complaints about the new Apple headquarters, calling it anti-urban, anti-social, anti-environmental and probably anti-Apple. Why would the company that makes the technology that lets us work anywhere on our notebooks and our phones build the ultimate secure suburban office complex?

There is really no reason to have an office anymore, except for control and security. That is why I finally understand what Steve Jobs was doing with the new Apple HQ, the gleaming white panopticon behind a fence. He saw the future of the collective workplace: It's all about secrecy, about cutting connections.

You either work in public, where the office is dead, or you work in private, where the office is going to be behind walls and fences and Faraday cages and you are going to get scanned like you are getting on a plane every time you go out the door. I am not sure there will be any in between.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

3. The big screen Television is going to follow the piano to the dump.

During the Olympic opening ceremonies (In Canada we got them in real time in the afternoon) we went to a neighbors to watch it on a big screen, not having a TV. They had an 8 year old child with an iTouch, who spent most of his time looking at it instead of the TV; one program at a time no longer fits with the attention span of a wired child.

Afterwards, I downloaded a TV app from Bell, my phone supplier, and get nine different Olympic feeds. In Canada, the phone company bought the TV network to supply content to their cellular network; it has become the TV.

The NBC time delay debacle, where everyone who follows twitter knows the results six hours before it's shown on TV, suggests that the phone is going to replace the TV and the computer as the main entertainment centre, where everyone can watch what they want where they want, when they want.

It's hard to drive and use technology at the same time./Screen capture

4. The Smart Phone is even changing the car's role in society.

TreeHugger emeritus John Laumer, in Successful Young Americans Seen Drifting Away From Car Culture: Smart Phones Play A Role noted that public transit is looking more attractive to young people because they can use their phones instead of having to look at the road. He quoted a study that concluded:

Smartphones, and their incompatibility with (safe) driving, help make alternatives that much more inviting.

Nick Bilton wrote in the New York Times last year:

Mobile devices, gadgets and the Internet are becoming must-have lifestyle products that convey status,” said Thilo Koslowski, lead automotive analyst for Gartner. “In that sense these devices offer a degree of freedom and social reach that previously only the automobile offered.”

There are some signs that smartphones, along with social networks and text messaging, have become the expression of liberation from parents that getting a driver’s license and hitting the open road once was.

Inevitably, if you change the way people think about cars, you change the urban form that is built around it. That's possibly another reason that living in urban centers in smaller spaces is growing in popularity; The smart phone's ability to find out what is happening around you makes the city work better for you, and makes the low density suburb even less attractive.

It's not just young people; I used to to all the driving in our family, but now I let my wife drive, while I catch up on my reader and twitter on my iPhone in the passenger seat. I am much happier.

Fashion Mobile /Promo image

5. New Businesses Are Going to Be Started, and Existing Businesses are Going to Fail.

In my earlier post Keep on Trucking: How the Food Truck Concept is Spreading To Other Uses, I noted:

The internet, and more importantly the smart phone, are changing everything. Just as people are no longer tied to the office or home phone and computer to be in touch, the mobile business can follow its customers and the customers can follow it. Word-of-mouth can be generated in minutes, not years.

New businesses can be formed rapidly and connect easily. On the other hand, I was in the Huntsville, Ontario Staples store yesterday, and you could shoot a cannon down the aisles of boxed software and desktop computers. Nobody has much need of their filing cabinets and staplers anymore, either.

The smart phone is the new computer and the app store is the new Staples. I hope Mitt Romney got all his money out.

Is Your Office Is In Your Pants?

I don't think tech editor Jaymi is going to give up her big DSLR for her iPhone; I still love a big monitor that can have two documents side by side. But like Christopher Mims, I am finding that more and more of the things that I do can be done on the iPhone. I suspect that it won't be long for most of us until it replaces our computer completely.

Tags: Apple Inc | iPhone | longreads | Technology