Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Architecture and Mortality

We don't often think about it, but the technology that we employ at any given time influences our surroundings.

There are some easy examples of this. For example, cities have to allocate a certain width for roads that allows the current sizes of cars and trucks to enter and move through the city. Preserved "old city" areas with very thin streets have huge access problems.

In a recent post, Oracle AppsLab's Jake Kuramoto noted that university computer labs, once an essential part of the university, are now an unnecessary cost drain and are being converted to other uses. See the Ars Technica post and the University of Virginia announcement.

And, of course, while data centers disappear, the whole concept of an "office" is undergoing change. In 2002, InformationWeek tried to predict what was coming:

[I]n Hawthorne, N.Y., IBM (NYSE: IBM) and office-furniture maker Steelcase Corp. are building the office of tomorrow. Or, more precisely, one cubicle of it. But what a cubicle.

Overhead lights, which respond to chips in the ID tag IBM Research senior manager Marissa Viveros wears, change from blue to green as she enters the workspace, signaling her arrival. Other electronic sensors respond to her entrance by illuminating a task light above her desk, resetting the temperature to her comfort level, and triggering a message to her team members, via IBM-designed Web software, that she's back at her desk. A monitor on an outside wall of the 11-foot-by-7-foot workspace, which had indicated that Viveros was at a meeting, changes to show that she's now available. But if Viveros chose to do so, she could also temporarily "hide" from the system.

But the 2002 IBM/Steelcase model assumed that you work in an office with other co-workers. While many of us follow this model, there are others (including Kuramoto, an Oracle employee who works hundreds of miles away from Redwood City, California) for whom outside wall monitors would be irrelevant.

Frankly, we can't really predict what our workspace will look like 50 years from now, or even 25 years from now. But it's fun to try.

P.S. Yes, the title of this post is a parody of this album title.
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