The Vision Thing: Escape from the Cubicle Farm

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Throbbing techno music plays over a darkened movie screen. As the music builds, the silhouette of a figure comes into focus–long hair blowing in the breeze, muscular build outlined in eclipsed light. As the camera cuts in, we see his face emerge from shadow: scars, a black eye patch, and a look that could curdle milk.

As the camera pans down, we see that our dark figure has something flat and black under his arm. A bomb? A briefcase with top secret papers? No. As he grabs the object with a free hand and flips it open with the grace of a ninja, we hear that familiar orchestral hit as the PowerBook G3's screen comes to life. On it is displayed the title of the film: Escape from the Cubicle Farm .

Escape from New York

OK, so maybe this scenario is a bit over the top. But you can see the merit of my movie's theme: thanks to technology, productivity is no longer a destination. Look at the boom in home-office computing: Do you think there would have been nearly as much growth in home-based businesses and flexible work hours if it weren't for the advent of remote access? And just think about how much productivity employees on the go have gained now that they can carry their entire office infrastructure in a black nylon bag. With Apple's latest generation of PowerBooks, there really isn't anything you can do only in the office, except maybe exchange a few sly looks during a dull meeting.

And then there are the things you can do unchained from your desk: check e-mail, surf the Web, access company databases, design and deliver sophisticated presentations, edit an image in Photoshop, download high-resolution photos from a digital camera, crunch the department budget, write the Great American Novel, watch a full-length movie. With the addition of large color screens, G3 processors, DVD-ROM drives, CardBus slots, and multiple storage and battery bays, Apple's current portables are more powerful and flexible than any of their predecessors. In fact, there is now very little a desktop Mac can do that a PowerBook can't (see " The PowerBook Field Guide," in this issue).

Unfortunately, one of the things a PowerBook can't do is change the attitude of managers who believe that work happens only under their watchful gaze. Now that PowerBooks have become so affordable–a reasonably well-equipped portable with a 14-inch screen goes for $2,799–in many cases there's no reason for employers to buy desktop machines. Think about how much more productive you could be if you folded up your office computer and took it home at the end of the day. You could get home in time for dinner with the family and then finish up any remaining work while the kids watch The Simpsons . If one of them gets sick the next morning, you could stay home and care for him or her and still be able to get work done. Imagine that–taking care of your familial obligations without missing work.

Of course, this might give you ideas. Maybe you could stay home one day a week every week . You'd still get your work done–maybe even more work than usual–without the usual workplace distractions. And you could win back the lost commute hours and what strands of your sanity you lose in daily gridlock. Your company would have to be enlightened enough to understand that, when managed responsibly, flexible hours can mean happier and more-productive employees.

Every enabling technology comes with a challenge: that you be open enough to the new possibilities it enables. Now that mobile computing has truly come of age, the next great challenge is for the companies that embrace this technology, and for the employees who use it, to be responsive and responsible enough to get the most out of it.

Or as Snake might put it, that new PowerBook G3 means freedom–but only if you've got the guts to use it.

Well, do you?

January 1999 page: 29

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