How Disruptive Technologies are Changing the Way We Work

There is a word for new technologies that dramatically change the world we live and work in: disruptive. The electric lightbulb was disruptive, allowing people to remain awake and active later into the darkness hours. The internal combustion engine and the telephone were disruptive, enabling faster communication that was no longer hampered by the speed of delivery by hand or horseback. In modern times, the amount of technological innovation has increased exponentially and more disruptive technologies have been pioneered since the advent of desktop computing than any other time in history.

Communications theorist Marshal McLuhen observed the connection between new communications technologies and massive social change. The printing press, radio and television all had profound impacts on work, society, politics, and life itself. Changes in technology have allowed humans to move from a hunter-gatherer society, to farming, to the factories of the industrial revolution which formed the basis for our 9-5 workday. Since the 1980s, portable computing, mobile internet, automation, cloud computing, and social media (just to name a few) have once again shifted our lifestyles on numerous levels, from how we communicate, to our social values, to our work environments.

In such an environment of constant reinvention and advancement, it’s not surprising that technology is changing how people work and communicate, and even less surprising that there is a generation gap between older and younger workers. Youth, who have grown up in an environment where obsolete items, technology and ideas are updated or replaced, change and innovation are the norm.

It’s impossible to analyze the impact of technology on social change without aknowledging the broader social and economic context of the world we live in. Young people of today face global warming, the gap between the poor and the 1%, and the increase in short-term freelance contract work in the post-recession economy. In the face of these global problems, this technologically connected generation is unwilling to maintain traditional work styles that are no longer functional. Renewable energy, online networking and open-source knowledge sharing can present solutions to some of these problems.

The increase in freelance workers and rising urban real-estate costs are changing the face of the workplace, and out of this uncertainty, loosely connected collectives of independent workers are forming. Cowork spaces, which are combination offices and meeting places, combine professional networking with social, supportive environments, and are providing an alternative to the isolation of working from home. In these cowork environments information sharing can occur across industries, and professionals with a wide variety of skill sets can learn and work with one another. Sharing, rather than secrecy, has become a hallmark of the new economy.

Even as stable employment, benefits and retirement packages become uncertain or unattainable for many people, technology has increased both the interest in, and the feasibility of entrepreneurial startups. The demand for clean technology, and new methods of fabrication such as 3D printing and additive manufacturing are opening up a world of opportunities for people willing to make the leap into self-employment.

Just like technology, we have to think creatively and disruptively and harness the power of new technologies like social media and automation to envision successful work styles that succeed in the realities of the new economy.

Ultimately, by working together rather than separately, we can gain the strength to tackle larger social problems within the freelance economy, like job security, benefits, and other worker protections.

Keep following Raw Finery Studio‘s blog for part 2 and 3 of our examination of the evolution of the workplace in the new economy.