Arthur C. Clarke on Distributed Work

I saw the new Steve Jobs movie a few days ago, which I enjoyed as a movie even though the main elements were fiction and it should have been titled something else.

But they had an awesome video interview with the amazing Arthur C. Clarke in 1974, which I’ve embedded above, where he said the following right around 0:56.

Interviewer: I wonder though, what sort of a life will it be in social terms if our whole life is built around the computer, if we become a computer-dependent society, computer-dependent individuals.

ACC: In some ways, but they’ll also enrich our society because it’ll make it possible for us to live anywhere we like. Any businessman, any executive could live almost anywhere on earth and still do his business through a device like this, and this is a wonderful thing, it means we won’t have to be stuck in cities, we can live out in the country or wherever we please, and still carry on complete interaction with human beings, as well as with other computers.

Wow, extremely prescient. Remember, this was 1974! The dominant technology companies of today still follow the same office-centric model as when computers took up entire rooms, but the dominant companies of tomorrow will be built and grow in a completely distributed fashion. (And of course, we’re hiring.)

See also, from 2012: Automattic, Forbes, and the Future of Work.

2 thoughts on “Arthur C. Clarke on Distributed Work

  1. Arthur C. Clarke was an amazing visionary and science function writer. For an example of a business person who actually put those kinds of visions into practice in the 1970s and earlier (like with the PLATO computer system starting in the 1960s), look at William C. Norris, the CEO of Control Data Corporation. Norris was a pioneer in creating a “socially responsible” business, building a big company that still tried to help employees be healthy and happy, and emphasizing public/private partnerships to “meet society’s unmet needs”. When other companies fled the inner cities in the lat 1960s with inner-city riots, he asked himself, how can my business help poor people via “social entrepreneurship”?

    Here are some pamphlets Norris wrote in the late 1970s and early 1980s on those sorts of topics:

    See especially the pamphlet Norris wrote called “Back to the Countryside Via Technology” from 1978 which echos Clarke’s ideas from the video — among other ideas related to decentralizing farming and manufacturing as small scale local enterprises enabled by computing technology. Those themes reflect Norris’ personal roots growing up on a farm. His biography, “William C. Norris: Portrait of a Maverick”, by James C. Worthy is a good read for any CEO.

    While it is true that “software is eating the world” as Marc Andreessen says (and you quote in your “Four Freedoms” essay), the fact remains that without agriculture and manufacturing almost none of us would have anything to eat or a way to cook it. Norris knew that in personal way that many people today find easy to forget (until the food isn’t there), so he wrote about ways to support those needs for everyone everywhere with computers as an educational and networking force to support people having small businesses and small farms.