Not since the industrial revolution have we seen such an incredible series of technological advances changing the fabric of human society.
The invention of the steam locomotive opened up travel throughout the United States, and the electric light bulb made working overnight shifts possible creating a revolution in the way people think about where and when they can work or play.
Now, the digital revolution is taking this a step further by further transforming our expectations of what constitutes a satisfying balance between work, life, and play.
Let’s examine what life was like before the digital age, the disruptions that new technologies caused, and how we’re settling into a new digital age that promises a more holistic and enjoyable lifestyle than previous generations could ever dream of.
Life Was Centered Around Work
Once upon a time, people had to live near where they worked. The absence of affordable transportation options and the absence of rapid communication made it impossible to live farther than a couple of miles away from your place of employment.
Factories, warehouses, and retail establishments needed to be near ports to receive raw materials and merchandise as cheaply as possible from arriving cargo ships. Consequently, the people who worked for these businesses needed to live close enough to quickly commute from workplace to home.
This influenced what people considered a “normal’ life:
* Meals, sleep, and rest were scheduled according to the needs of business – and business was conducted all day, six or seven days a week
* Recreational activities were enjoyed infrequently on rare days off
* Work was physically demanding due to a lack of automation, leaving workers little energy for other activities
* Commuting time was a considerable (and unpaid) part of the work day
* Due to the significant amount of time spent working, people considered their job as a part of their identity
The industrial revolution took people away from the natural tempo of rural life and agricultural work and forced us into irregular schedules and massive workloads.
This was the cause of the great migration in the 19th and early 20th centuries from the old farming communities (where life was notoriously difficult) into the cities – where factory wages were much better than farm income.
Before the industrial revolution, our lives were focused on the endless chores of agricultural life; factory work, though difficult, was still easier, safer, and better paid than farm work.
Unfortunately, work was still something people had to base every other part of life around. There was no work/life balance – just work, and a life you lived when you weren’t working.
Communication was Slow
Communication in the pre-digital era was inconceivably slow. All information was recorded on paper that had to be shipped by mail or courier from one location to another. Even now a letter can take days to travel from one place to another.
If you wanted to take advantage of a business opportunity, apply for a job or even wish someone a happy birthday; you needed to calculate the time (a lot)and effort (considerable) involved in getting information on paper from point A to point B.
Information was Difficult to Access
Before the internet, if you needed to access information you had to go to the library. If your local branch didn’t have what you needed, then the librarian would locate it for you elsewhere and request it to be sent over.
Even if the library had what you needed, it still needed to be found it in the stacks and shelves. Researching could consume hours of time out of your day. Finding the information you wanted required pouring over hundreds of pages; any well-researched white paper, magazine or newspaper article was a major undertaking.
Being productive ate up a huge percentage of your time, leaving very little extra time for education, recreation, or self-improvement.
The Internet Begins to Change Everything
Now, we’ll jump ahead to the 1990’s, the first decade of the digital revolution that would radically transform every facet of our lives.
The advent of email suddenly made communication virtually instantaneous; whether it was an inter-office memo or a resume, you could get it your message where you wanted it at the click of a mouse.
The invention of the search engine gave us the tools to sift through the information stored on thousands of servers quickly. Countless digitized documents could be stored in a space smaller than a shoebox and accessed with minimal effort.
Consequently, our productivity increased dramatically as the effort involved was radically reduced. The process that would lead to happier and more balanced lives had begun.
Live Where You Want
Advances in information technology and automation have eliminated the drudgery of physically strenuous and monotonous factory work; no one needs to be condemned to life on an assembly line anymore.
The days of living conveniently near your employer died with the advent of cheap internet access and the start of the information age.
Almost all work has become digital work in the 21st century. Regardless if it’s customer service, sales, retail, marketing or supporting the technology of the world wide web; as long as you have internet access and a computer you can be a productive employee from wherever you happen to be.
The digital revolution has made it possible to focus on living where you feel happiest rather than where you’re forced to by a daily commute.
One of the most important factors in a balanced work, family, and play life is being able to choose the neighborhood that makes you happiest and being able to stay near the people you love.
Work Where and When You Want
Technology has transformed the quality of our interpersonal relationships by making it possible to for countless people to work at home and at a comfortable pace.
Whether you’re a real estate agent, stock broker, software engineer or any other information-based profession; you can enjoy rolling out of bed, see the kids off to school and spend the next few hours in your home office without the stress and expense of a commute. Also, having your work measured by task completion rather than hours worked allows you the freedom to divide your time between work and life according to what’s best for you.
Families can reap the benefits of having both parents at home with their children. No more late nights at the office!
The time and money saved on commuting will open many new opportunities for self-actualization. The freedom to live, work, and play according to personal preference instead of a regimented schedule even has important health benefits.
Greater flexibility helps us live life more fully and find our essential balance. The millennial generation (ages 18-34) is the first generation that can take full advantage of the possibilities the digital revolution has brought us.
The Freedom to Choose
At one time, opening a business was an undertaking that involved establishing a brick and mortar presence in addition to the equipment, furniture, stock, etc. that almost every industry required. Very few people could choose self-employment as an option because of the capital needed, the cost of traditional marketing, and the difficulty in convincing a bank to finance your dream.
Millenials, unlike any generation before them, can start businesses based on nothing more than a website and an email address. Self-actualization has never been easier; if you can conceive it – the digital age makes it possible to bring your dream to life with almost no capital at all!
Finally, a generation of people has the option to live lives based on their creativity and ability rather than as office or factory drones following rigid rules under a suffocating hierarchy.
Where Are We Headed?
No one could have imagined how technology would transform our ability to live healthier, more active, and fulfilling lives than anyone else in human history.
Our greatest concern now is discovering those experiences and items that can help us embrace the best in life while working as productively as possible in rewarding and enjoyable careers.
From how best to maintain our health, to finding the most reliable internet service provider to stay connected to the world at large; our lives finally center on ourselves rather than how we pay the bills. This is a revolutionary time, take up the challenge and make the most of what life has to offer in the digital age!