From the Cold War onward there was a wide array of new technologies created such as GPS, NASA, ballistic missiles, and nuclear proliferation. Among these was what came to be known as the Intenet. Fast forward over 60+ years later the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe.
What do the Internet and the pandemic have in common? It’s got to do with the Internet but not how you might think – read on…
DARPA / ARPANET / MILNET
The history of the Internet goes back to the Post WW2 period. The United States entered into a Cold War with the USSR and the first satellite (Sputnik) had entered orbit and it wasn’t developed by the US. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was created as an R&D agency for the US Department of Defense (DOD). From there sprung the project that would become a network of networks called the Internet.
In the 1960s the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was created based on the TCP / IP protocols. These formed the foundation for what is today the Internet. It was a joint effort between various academic institutions, industrial companies, and the government.
Later on in the early 1980s, ARPANET had forked to create the Military Network (MILNET). This was basically ARPANET strictly for DOD usage. No direct connections existed between ARPANET and MILNET. Its evolution continues to this day.
The principle of decentralization is what allows the Internet to function under stress.
What is key to highlight is there was a feature of the Internet by design that was most special of all. The principle of decentralization allows the Internet to function under stress. Since these technologies were developed during the Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear war, the DOD needed a method to communicate if cities were obliterated and lines of communication broken.
The architecture of the Internet allows for highly decentralized packet transfer and routing to keep communications alive. The redundancy of TCP/IP allows the framework of the Internet to survive a nuclear strike and still be able to route communications around dead nodes.
Work During the Pandemic
I find it most interesting how remarkably well people and businesses did transitioning from working in an office together 5 days a week to working from home 100% while keeping the gears of the world moving.
The quality of modern life would have taken a steep decline if we didn’t have the infrastructure we have today:
- Fast residential network speeds
- Computers in every home
- Digital saavy by end users
- Reliable network routing
- Cloud computing
- The security processes and mechanisms that help keep work secure while still being productive.
If there was a product to point at for success during the pandemic it would have to be in my mind Zoom. Their offerings and capabilities allow for a new kind of hybrid work that I don’t see going away anytime soon.
Couple all of the above with the Battlestations we create at home and it is a stark difference between working in a cube or on a flat desk in the office. How could you go back from this?
Internet and WFH – Bug vs Feature
We’ve talked about the Intenet and it founding along with the pandemic and work from home. So what is the similarity that I’m trying to point out?
My grand point is that the Internet was designed to function in a highly decentralized manner while the pandemic work from home experience was more of a sub-optimal contingency plan. The Internet was designed that way – working in office jobs was not. For the Internet, the decentralization is a feature whereas for pandemic perpetual WFH it is, in my eyes, a bug.
Essential But With Side Effects
In 2021, the Pew Research Center published a study called The Internet and the Pandemic. It discusss what we all know – the Internet kept the train on the tracks and allowed us to continue much closer to business as usual that without it. However, it is not without ill side effects. You can read the complete report here.
Zoom fatigue, blurred lines between work and home life, increased hours and stress, lonliness, etc. impacted many of us – some more than others. Even the act of putting on regular working clothes to go out of your home and encounter the world was done away with for sweatpants and waking up minutes before it is time to logon for the first meeting.
For many, digital interactions could only do so much as a stand-in for in-person communicationThe Internet and the Pandemic / Sept 2021 / Pew Research Center
Onboarding new employees has been a burden. Training new staff becomes more difficult. The absense from a shared physical workspace can hamper learning the job, especially for younger less experienced workers. There isn’t a good substitute for wheeling your chair to your neighbor and asking if they can look at your screen and tell you how to do something.
The productivity during the initial WFH rivaling the traditional office was remarkable – but short lived. For many, it started off like sprinting a marathon until collapsing and wondering why we are running the race at all.
Gone Too Far?
Therefore, it begs the question “have we gone too far”? WFH was previously the exception and not the rule. Then from 2020 to just a few months ago it became more the norm instead of a deviation. Going forward I’m not sure this can continue.
What begin as an amazing response to adverse conditions has stagnated into something which for many of us is less productive, more lonely, more dissociated, and less connected. In my opinion it is not a long term solution. I don’t know what the proper balance or location of work should be but I can see enough of the current state to have reasonable doubt and concern about this being the status quo for much longer.
The Internet was designed beautifully and productively as a decentralized network of networks operating on the same TCP/IP protocol. Pandemic WFH was a hasty response to a global crisis which is not sustainable in its current form.
The Internet and work from home are similar in that they are decoupled from themselves. Post pandemic work is for most a hybrid model right now. I don’t think this is the final form it will assume and I also don’t think we will go back to how it was in 2019.
What do you think? What does office work look like in 5-10 years? Thanks for reading!
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If you liked this post then you might also like my previous post on My Project: Wired House for Ethernet Cat 6.
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