Offline to All-line
Once upon a time we talked about working “offline” as a way of saying that we were working on paper or in person, away from and apart from a computer. As more of our work moved to the computer (and we weren’t doing work if it wasn’t on the computer), “offline” began to mean working on your computer specifically, but disconnected from the rest of the Internet. We worked for years using the computer as an appliance that allowed us to work disconnected from everyone else and disconnected in silos of information.
I honestly can’t remember the last time anyone used the word “offline”. I don’t think people use that word much anymore. Not long ago you couldn’t work off your computer; now you can’t work without being connected.
Together We Work
Everyone’s work is collaborative these days; it all requires a connection to the Internet. More of my time is spent Web conferencing with others, Skyping with colleagues, doing Google searches, and doing other cloud activities. It seems only a short while ago we were talking about the day when we would be doing this at work. Now I don’t have time to catch my breath between online activities, work flowing from one collaborative engagement after another. I don’t know if we are in teams or knots. Sometimes it is one-on-one, sometimes it the entire team, sometimes it is open-ended and different people come and go.
Service or Infrastructure?
It was not that long ago that if you needed to upload a picture or have some service, you needed an account at that web site. You used to do most of your work in desktop applications and occasionally went to the Web for some information. Now I can upload pictures or get a Web address (URL) shortened without even logging in. No questions asked. I can get map information, I can find content at the most granular level, all without paying anyone or registering. I’m spending more of my time at Web sites and Web apps – and I don’t even know if there is a difference. Is it site (a place) or an application (a tool)? It’s both.
And it’s not just computers that are connected and allowing us to collaborate. We have phones and other mobile devices that allow us to stay connected in more places and more ways than we thought possible only a few years ago.
Distance is Gone
My brother gave me access to a document on Google; my colleagues at work used a spreadsheet in the cloud. Whether family or work, we are all moving into the cloud. No one asks ‘Should we work in the cloud?’; we are just in it. We are all working collaboratively. We are all working in the cloud.
Add to that the reach of collaboration – the fact that I’m Web conferencing with people all over the world and not even thinking about it; that we sometimes don’t even say where we are; that a gal from down the hall may be visiting a remote office and connecting in as if she’s at her desk; that half our company is not only remote but distributed geographically. I am connecting with more people in other countries using LinkedIn and Twitter and not even giving it a second thought.
Work or Play
I have an account with Amazon.com to sell books as a hobby. But Amazon has the online tools available for me to run it like a business. In fact, I do make money when I sell books that I have bought for cheap, either at thrift stores or yard sales. This is just one example of how the line is blurring of what is work and what is play. I connect with people around the world who buy my books; the tools are available in the cloud for me keep track of sales that are as sophisticated as any business would have – inventory tracking, order management, customer communication- it’s all there. And often when working in the cloud, the distinctions between work and play may only be whether you’re making enough money or not.
One Big Happy Cloud
Are we lost in a fog or immersed in a cloud? Eventually, I will get used to being so connected. But I’ll always be of the generation that made the transition, that started offline and began to see cracks in the silos until we were all mobile and all present with each other and collaborating in ways and on projects that we hadn’t even thought possible only a short time ago. I was born when there was time and distance, when people worked with things and computers handled information or metadata. Now we are all connecting and it’s not so clear where one project ends and another begins, if content has boundaries and if any limitations apply to what is possible.