The network is the computer

:: stories

Rishi Sunak has told people that working from home may hurt their career. Sunak, like many conservatives, is frightened, not only of the future, but of the present.

I am quite quite sure that Sunak is not acting in his own or his rich friends’ narrow self-interest here, as they stare horrified at the commercial property portfolios which have made them as rich as they are and wonder what they’re now worth. Quite sure.

So since that can’t be the case (I mean, it couldn’t be, could it?) what’s happening is that Sunak and others like him are simply acting the way you would expect them to behave. They are, well, conservative: they like things to stay the same. Often they are stuck in the past and unwilling to accept change. That hasn’t often been the case for the johnsonite tory party which is not, in fact, a conservative party at all but a quasi-fascist insurgency, but it is the case here.

Because what finally happened, in late March 2020, was the internet. If you are old enough you may remember what the internet was meant to give us. Before the internet, you had to go to some special anointed place where the computers were, with their vast ranks of drums and endlessly-spooling tape drives, served by people in white coats in rooms with glass walls from behind which the onlookers would stare, amazed at the computational resources being deployed for who-knows-what purpose. When the internet came the computers in their cathedrals would dissolve into the landscape, and suddenly they would be everywhere. No longer would you have to go to a special building where the terminals were: you could be anywhere. You could be in a café, in the park, on the beach, at home: anywhere. And you would not have to spend a fifth or more of your waking life in various tin boxes, and all your free time exhausted. Life would be better for almost everyone: everyone except those who owned the rotting, empty palaces full of rusting, unused terminals.

Well, the internet didn’t happen when we thought it would: instead it got parasitized by various soul-eating entities with names like ‘google’ and ‘facebook’ which made it not only almost useless, but usually actively harmful: suddenly, not only did you have to spend three hours in a tin can, you somehow had to find another three hours to spend feeding the parasites. And people forgot what it was meant to have done.

And then, in March 2020, another parasite came. And, because we all now had to stay at home to escape from this new parasite, finally, the internet happened. Finally, many of us are free. At first, of necessity, we all worked from home, but as the new parasite fades we will, finally, be able to work from anywhere: from a coffee shop, from a museum, from an art gallery, from a park; even, perhaps, sometimes from home. But not from some vast factory full of terminals.

And Sunak can’t understand this. For him it will always be the late 20th century: for him that brief period of history that started in the late 19th century and is all he has ever known must last for ever, because for him no change is possible. But change has, finally, come, and he cannot stop it.

At last, the future has come and we are free.

An earlier version of this was a comment on The Register.