The Infrastructure of Cloud Work


The Infrastructure of Cloud Work

Manhattan, New York — Late one evening, after watching a two-hour Broadway show, I discovered a well-lit cafe along Broadway Avenue and 49th Street. It was close to midnight, but this favorite haunt of software engineers, graphic designers, and students was still very much open.

In one corner sat a student furiously playing games on his iPad. In another, a chess tournament was in full swing. At almost every table, people were either reading, discussing, pounding on their laptops, or silently contemplating their coffee. There was unmistakable energy in this café. I got myself a croissant and a bowl of New York clam chowder and quickly felt at home among New York City’s insomniacs. A uniformed but unarmed security guard patrolled the tables and occasionally stopped to watch the progress of the chess game, but as far as I could see, he did not remind anyone that this was an eating place and not a library or a coworking space.

This place is definitely not known for its food or its ambience, but like some of New York’s libraries, the main reasons for its popularity include its strong Wi-Fi connectivity and its 24/7 operations. Students and freelancers find each other here at any time of the day. In my idea of the cloud economy, as brick-and-mortar offices decline, places like these will be vital resources for remote workers.

I remember that we had the humble equivalent of this café back in the Philippines when I was doing graduate work at the University of the Philippines. We called it the “drug store,” even though it hardly sold any pharmaceutical products, perhaps because its main attraction was that it sold cigarettes and beer. It was more accurately a variety store serving food on the side. The instant coffee was bad, but the water was always hot. The food was terrible, but it tasted different from cafeteria fare. Around its oily tables sat the aspiring philosophers of the UP arguing about God and existentialism through the wee hours of the morning.

The abundance of these sort of gathering spots, which form the basic infrastructure for cloud work, is what makes cities like New York a popular destination for digital nomads. As the infrastructure of cloud work increasingly becomes democratized, and as all the great things that technology offers become readily accessible to anyone, the contest begins to shift from infrastructures to indices of competitiveness.

The belief that education is the great equalizer has never been more significant than it is today. But by education, I do not simply mean the formal degrees that universities offer. More importantly, the growing popularity of the “gig economy” has made it possible for anyone to learn practically anything — from creating spreadsheet scripts to developing mobile applications. In this context, education is available to anyone with an internet connection. Precisely because of this shift, however, competition for jobs and top talent is increasingly getting tougher. Automation eliminates low-value tasks, and the arena of competition shifts to business analysis and content creation.

Critical thinking, technical competence, and business acumen take the front seat in the recruitment of talent in today’s knowledge economy. In a flat world, everyone is given the tools to compete. This is both a promise and a challenge. It is a promise for societies that, for centuries, have seen themselves constrained by physical boundaries, inherited hierarchies, and historical contingencies. But at the same time, it challenges both job-seekers and businesses to stay relevant.

Since arriving in New York a few months ago, I have often found myself working from home, in public libraries, and at coworking spaces. I plan to drive upstate in the coming weeks and bring my office to the grounds of Cornell University and state parks in Ithaca, or by Niagara Falls in Buffalo. Until today, the uncertainty of having a reliable internet connectivity and the odds of being faced with uncomfortable working conditions have discouraged me from pursuing that idea. But with my powerful Plantronics Voyager noise-cancelling bluetooth headset and an unlimited high-speed data plan, I could attend video conference calls anytime and anywhere.

It really doesn’t take a lot to conquer the world these days.

Source: Medium:Remote Working
The Infrastructure of Cloud Work

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