Twenty-seven years ago at the dawn of the mobile phone age, the Harvard Business Review wrote that Your Office is Where You Are. We have been watching how our work has been dematerializing to the point where we joke that Your Office Is In Your Pants.
I have been doing an experiment for the last few weeks since I got my new Apple Macbook (yes, I know we have complained about this machine and Apple and yes, you can call me a hypocrite but I did it.)The single most important distinguishing feature is the display; it is a different world. The resolution is higher than my 24 inch external monitor so I can squeeze as much on it as I could on the big screen before, including the multiple windows for that copying and pasting that bloggers are famous for. That is no longer necessary; you can get side-by-side windows open on the small screen.
Then there is that vile soldered-in non-replaceable battery; it runs the computer for five or six hours so I am no longer always searching for an outlet.
Where I used to have every port on my old Macbook full, with a mouse, LAN, time machine, external monitor and a power supply, now I have just the power supply when I need it. For the first time my computer is truly mobile.
This changes things in subtle but important ways. One could always move around with a notebook computer, but most people tended to get tied down into one place where all the peripherals lived. What happens when they disappear?
For one thing, the need for a desk disappears. I use a standing desk but at some point in the day I want to take a load off my feet and used to pull up a stool. Now I just pick up the computer and move. It makes the expensive adjustable standing desk superfluous; I actually designed a replacement for my standing desk that I was going to have built, a two-level design with a power supply garage in between, until I realized that the whole idea of a fixed spot for working is over. Your desk is where you are.
Through the course of the past few weeks I have been seeing what else I can get rid of. With the new Mac operating system, my word processor and spreadsheet, Pages and Numbers from Mac, go straight into the iCloud. My photos do too; goodbye external hard drive. (Tech Editor Jaymi thinks this is a lousy idea. See her note at the end of the post.)
Last week I tried dematerializing my work even further; I covered the Making Space symposium in Philadelphia with my iPhone and a folding keyboard instead of carrying my new and expensive computer. The iPhone Pages app saves on the cloud so that when I got home I just opened my computer and there it was, as were the photographs.
Since I started this exercise about a month ago I have found that I am working more efficiently than I did before (no more emailing files, they are all in one place) have a neater office (fewer wires and a lot less equipment) and it is taking up a lot less space. We are planning a serious downsizing and I have worried if I would be able to move from my 10 x 12 home office to a niche a quarter that size, but realize that even that will be more than I will probably need.
Other than the retina screen, there is nothing Mac-specific in this story, and soon every computer will have them. It seems now that the notebook is the new desktop and the phone is the new notebook and the cloud is the new file cabinet and everything is just smaller, lighter more portable and easier to use.
Twenty-seven years ago Philip J. Stone and Robert Luchetti coined the phrase "Your office is where you are;" It is finally really true.
NOTE: Editor Jaymi is not so thrilled about the cloud:
Many people would argue about using the cloud in place of an external hard drive, making arguments for privacy, as well as that the cloud doesn't mean you have permanent access to your documents as you would with an external, and of course there is the major issue of using up more energy via data centers than you might by backing up periodically on an external hard drive (which doesn't need to be permanently plugged in.... just when you want to run timemachine or back up).