The typical life of an American today is drastically different than it was just a generation ago. The primary source of this difference has been the growing access to high-speed internet and the explosion of new technologies built around it. Laptops, tablets, and smart phones are transforming how we gather information, entertain ourselves, and communicate with each other. Software, such as FaceTime and Skype, have given us the ability to condense space and interact face-to-face with colleagues, friends, and loved ones from around the world without ever leaving our living room. Smart Home products allow for new interactions with once silent household devices. Refrigerators can now text us when we’re out of milk and doorbells can show us who’s at the door, even when we’re miles away. Our homes are finally becoming the machines for living in that Le Corbusier foretold.
This new technology is also transforming how we relate to each other within the confines of our home. The post-World War II family exchanged the fireplace for the television as the point of social gathering within the house, but this shared screen to view the world has now splintered into separate smartphones for each parent and child. A double-edged sword, these devices can help a child research a homework assignment while also fostering jealousy for the distracted parental focus they struggle to attain. They can also connect us to relatives far away while at the same time build walls between us at the family dinner table.
Along with this transformation, the line between home life and work life has also been blurred. During the previous census, the U.S. Census Bureau noted a 35% increase, in just three years, of people who worked at least one day per week from home. This data, already eight years old, was gathered before the onset of the gig economy, brought about by companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit. The very concept of being an employee is changing as more people are becoming 1099 contractors or self-employed entrepreneurs within this new economy. The traditional work world is reacting to this evolving reality and companies are competing for quality workers by offering telecommuting and flex work to allow for a more integrated work-life balance.
The side effect of all this is an increased intertwining of the home, the office, and the world at large. The walls that once compartmentalized our lives are falling away and we are left in a void of possibility where we can now define the shape of our own lives. Yet, how do we use these new technologies as a tool without losing ourselves to its addiction? How do we reap the benefits they provide without giving up the immediate personal interactions we hold dear? Our answer to these questions will have a direct effect on our lives and a lasting one on our society for generations to come.