The information revolution has been the most unexpected event in the space age. Science fiction writers failed to predict this phenomenon. This is surprising, since the Internet has single handily changed modern way of life.
Originally the Internet was a concept to protect a way of life that people had become accustomed to in the free world. It was conceived as a source of an alternate line of communication in the face of a threat of nuclear war.
The Cold War ended in 1990 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Internet was already widespread in many academic institutions and major corporations, as well as hobbyist users. Since then the technology has been increasing rapidly, it has come to such a stage where businesses are able to thrive in the virtual world.
The business ventures in cyberspace gave a new way of working without leaving the home. This trend came to be known as telecommuting. The Internet as a mass resource of information gave reason for people to not leave their home during a workday and instead gather information and complete their jobs in front of their own computer terminal. Once the work required was completed with a few clicks of the mouse and furious tapping of keys, the work would be sitting on a terminal in the workplace.
Some companies took this approach a step further, instead of an isolated terminal being used by the employee, they allowed access to the company’s private network, thereby insuring that confidential documents remained primarily on one system. Although it could be argued that an open connection would lead to an information leakage in case of hacking. This problem was first tackled, in the case of Email, by sophisticated encryption that would make getting the information difficult for the hacker, since decrypting 128bit encryption would take ridiculously huge amounts of time.
With open access to the network, this problem was a little more tricky to tackle, however, it was overcome by securing the access to the different levels of the network and any events (e.g. entering passwords and usernames) that occur between the terminal and the network were recorded and the IP address of the terminal requesting the access is logged, and passwords were also encrypted.
As soon as the web became more sophisticated and was able to handle interactivity, entrepreneurs saw this growing world as a step of opportunity. They banished the workplace altogether and worked solely from home, and would conduct all their business online. It was due to these entrepreneurs that security on the net was increased and new technologies were developed. The power of such technology has amplified the growing number of people working from home.
Technology is a key word when the Internet is discussed, without it the Internet would still be static pages of Teletext. The rapid growth from the microcomputers to sophisticated Personal Computers changed dramatically the content of the information that was available, the lifestyle of today and the way we are able to work. However, new technology always comes with a heavy price tag and this may be the key disadvantage of using the Internet for work.
The one attribute that would be lost by an entire population working from home would be social skills and communication. Some would say people are more confident from behind a non-judgemental monitor screen; however, this would probably leave a lot of people with not a lot to say when they are without a keyboard. To counter this, web cams were designed and sold, and proved to be hugely popular. Interactivity between people is increased, however, with web cam technology came the term video conferencing.
Video conferencing allows two or more terminals to have a direct link with real time audio and video of people sitting in front of a webcam. The idea behind this was that people from anywhere in the world could have a meeting to discuss the next business proposal without leaving their home. It was a great idea that was full of bugs. The main drawback was connection speed. Most people can only afford 56kbps modems and this would cause very jerky audio and video. Corporations at the time of introduction could only purchase ISDN, and even this was not fast enough for a real online meeting. Although supporters of video conferencing believe that with faster access this technology will indeed replace the weekly staff meeting.
Critics still argue that many facial expressions and body language would be lost by this leap of technology. It remains to be seen what will happen.
Another problem that has been found from telecommuting is that when the firm allows a remote terminal access, users would find that they might wait several when retrieving files and documents. Again the only way to combat this is faster access, and that is exactly the next step that will revolutionise working from home.
The introduction of DSL to a wide variety of businesses and users should increase the connection speed to the Internet; however, with faster access analysts predict it could lead to only more traffic on the Internet. In order to combat this two solutions have been suggested: Internet 2 and Freenet.
Internet 2 is currently an experimental technology undergoing testing in the United States. Academic institutions and corporations jointly fund the project in order to test Internet Protocol 6 (IP6). This research is valuable since IP6 takes account the growing number of terminals on the Internet. The more computers that are online would only mean more traffic across the superhighway and thus when employees try remote access they might have difficulty in connecting or experience long waiting times. It is also interesting to note that Internet 2 speed for data retrieval and storage is up to 2 gigabytes per second. Thus the corporations will definitely be looking towards this technology in order to make sure that their employees can work efficiently. Unfortunately this technology may not become mainstream for until 5-10 years, and upon it’s introduction it is very likely to be expensive.
Freenet is the result of a PhD student’s research. Freenet is able to reduce traffic by utilising a certain percentage of every terminal’s hard drive on the Internet as a cache. This means for information retrieval the number of hops needed through various subnets would be reduced. However, sensitive information could be prone to hacking. Although the cache on every terminal would be encoded, it would be easier for the hacker to crack his own system rather than a remote one.
Other technology that needs to be taken into consideration is the employee’s system and its compatibility with the corporation’s system.
Telecommuting only takes account of information retrieval and storage, however, the information does need to be created from somewhere, and computer technology is increasing to do very sophisticated tasks. Usually a computer in the workplace is more advanced and more powerful than a computer at home, this power could be harnessed by remote access, but again a system of a decent quality is still needed. Ultimately software compatibility is the key issue. In order to gain remote access a client software is needed to establish a connection with the two terminals. Some of the programs that allow you to do this are Terminal Service, VNC (Virtual Network Computing) and PC Anywhere. All of these programs have different levels of access. They range from simple retrieval and storage up to using applications on the network from a remote location.
Another program known as Webmin allows the user to administer a raq server from a remoter terminal. This means a fully qualified technician from India could resolve problems and modify accounts of a server that is in America.
Thus a new generation of employment is given birth by telecommuting. Talented computer programmers and graphic designers occupy most of these jobs. Other employment in the telecommuting sector includes technicians, distance learning teachers, and any other job that requires the use of a computer.
In an economical point of view the function of telecommuting could be a valuable stepping-stone for financial success. Since it would mean that newer businesses would not require much space for a registered office and will not have deal with such liabilities as harassment in the workplace or the need to provide goodwill facilities such as canteens or a coffee machine. Thus overhead costs are reduced. It could be argued that whatever costs are saved, these are lost with the need of providing cutting edge technology in order to compete with the market leader.
The world of telecommuting could be radically changed with the integration of humans with machines. Sophisticated microchips are becoming small enough to implant into human beings, thus leading to a cyborg population. This would mean that instead of sitting in front of a computer terminal to do work, the employee could do their assignments from the comfort of their armchair. It is only a matter of time until this utopian future becomes reality.