INTRODUCTION: TRACKING THE CONTEXT OF MOBILE LIVES

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<ul><li><p>I N T R OD U CT I ON : T R ACK I N G TH E CON T E XT</p><p>O F MOB I L E L I V E S</p><p>Tracy L. MeerwarthGeneral Motors Corporation and Consolidated Bearings Company</p><p>Julia C. GluesingWayne State University and Cultural Connections</p><p>Brigitte JordanPalo Alto Research Center (PARC)</p><p>Many employees recognize that they are doing major amounts of professional work away fromwhat might be considered their official workspace. Some knowledge workers are beginning tosee a different world for themselves where work and home are allowed to blur andwhere periodsof paid work alternate throughout the day with periods devoted to family and leisure. Becauseof rapid improvements in technology and changes in the global economy, worker mobility anddistributed work have become a central topic for employees and companies alike. In this volumewe begin to remedy a shortcoming in the literature on these topics by center-staging accountsof personal experience. Contributors narratives revolve around observations they made abouttheir own behavior, illustrations of successes, and descriptions of the tensions inherent inmobile life and work. Thus, the articles reflect the authors self-conscious awareness of theirindividual mobile lives and, most importantly, how their lives contribute to and are shaped bylarger societal patterns. In this introduction we provide an overview of the individual articlesthat follow, as well as some background for an informed reading, by discussing some of thedriving forces behind the transition from conventional work styles to mobile and distributedpatterns of work. We critically review some of the literature on the work and lifestyle transitionthat constitutes the central theme for this volume, including the effects of globalization, thedevelopment of tools for remote collaboration, and the blurring of home and office work. Weelaborate our review of the literature onmobility and distributed work to highlight the stylistic,methodological, and topical contributions of this volume, thereby deepening our understandingof how this new mobility fits into the broader cultural and economic landscape. Keywords:mobile, distributed, remote and nomadic work, lifescapes, lifestyles, auto-ethnography.</p><p>Several trends have generated transformations in the global economy and major shifts inconventional workscapes and lifescapes.1 Primary among these trends are globalization,the ever-increasing functionalities of information and communication technologies, andthe blurring of home and office work. As a consequence, workplace mobility has becomea central topic for workers and employers alike.</p><p>NAPA BULLETIN 30, pp. 111. ISSN: 1556-4789. C 2008 by the American Anthropological Association.DOI:10.1111/j.1556-4797.2008.00016.x</p><p>napa B u l l e t i n 3 0 / I n t r o d u c t i o n : Tr a c k i n g t h e C o n t e x t o f M o b i l e L i v e s 1</p></li><li><p>Globalization now affects virtually every human being, in every country, in everyregion of the world, regardless of the state of development. As capital moves outwardfrom established centers of economic and political power, work becomes untetheredfrom places of production, is redistributed, outsourced, in-sourced, and off-shored.2</p><p>The rhythm of work that was once delineated by the ringing of the factory bell or theclosing of office doors at the end of the day, now responds to a different rhythm. Thisnew rhythm is the rhythm of the marketscapes and econoscapes of the global economythat, like a giant beast, inhales and exhales through integrated supply chains, financialchannels, and consumerism in all its forms. These new rhythms have far-reaching effectson workers lives, lifestyles, and life options, including the construction of their lifescapes.Employees are beginning to feel these shifts in rhythm and are restructuring their liveson both the societal level (regarding such things as Social Security and healthcare), andon the personal level (in terms of career planning, educational opportunities, and lifepath options).</p><p>At the same time, rapid improvements in the capabilities and functionalities of portablecommunication devices (cell phones, PDAs, laptops, and other devices) and useful ap-plications (such as instant messaging, phone texting, video conferencing, and widespreadpublicWi-Fi hotspots) have increasingly divorced task from place and havemade possiblethe deterritorialization of work. Connecting to geographically distributed workplaces,often synchronously, is becoming commonplace in employees lives. Compared to earliertimes, when production activities were carried out at localized sites (the fields and forestsof preindustrial societies or the factories spawned by the Industrial Revolution), technol-ogy has allowed production to expand into multiple, geographically dispersed territoriesand even into the virtual world. Consequently, work has become mobile, unbounded,and independent of particular localities.3</p><p>Industrial work patterns that are 200 years old have been changed with the possibilitiesopened up by the new information and communication technologies, and workersare managing these possibilities in a variety of ways. People recognize that traditionalemployment is less stable. They witness how real and imagined benefits that were inherentin the image of the company as family are being challenged and, in many cases, simplyeliminated. As a result, sporadic employment, independent contracting, and temporaryconsulting work are becoming common, especially among knowledge workers. Clearly,mobile and remote workers are a growing segment in the global economy that deservesthe attention of social scientists.</p><p>Increasingly, work and home life are blurring. Formany, especially knowledge workers,work and home activities may become interspersed, completed in short cycles of activitywhere periods of paid work alternate with periods devoted to family, community, andleisure activities throughout the day. More traditional work contractors and full-timeemployees are becoming remote workers who telecommute some days a week from theirhome to their regular workplace. Others see themselves living a nomadic lifeuntetheredto a worksite while they travel from place to place, producing output in places in betweendestinations. In many ways, and for a variety of people, there emerges the possibility ofreturning to a lifestyle that was typical before the Industrial Revolution. This was a</p><p>2 napa B u l l e t i n 3 0 / I n t r o d u c t i o n : Tr a c k i n g t h e C o n t e x t o f M o b i l e L i v e s</p></li><li><p>time when work and home were intermingling components of a broader life, as peopleowned and managed the means of production themselves, and home and work life wereblended. Beyond that, discussions are now emerging about the possibility of furthermajor changes in work experience and forms of work as the idea of virtual worlds enterspublic consciousness.</p><p>The contributors to this volume are anthropologists who have spent an average ofseven years working in remote and mobile settings. Some work in academic institutions,balancing university-based social science research projects with teaching responsibilities.Others work in industry as consultants, managers, or members of R and D (research anddevelopment) teams, using ethnographic approaches to solve organizational, communi-cation and design problems for a diverse collection of clients.</p><p>The articles in this volume reflect the authors self-conscious awareness of their indi-vidual mobile lives, and feature storytelling broadly as a narrative technique. This was aconscious stylistic and methodological choice made by the editors, as we were aware of anextensive literature on remote and distributed work but had seen little on the actual be-haviors that, in accumulation, change established norms. To document these behaviors,we solicited auto-ethnographic first-person accounts from the contributors, includingmeticulous observations of self and others, detailed accounts of personal experience, aswell as illustrations of the successes and descriptions of the tensions inherent in mobilework.</p><p>T H E I N T E R FAC E O F MOB I L I T Y AN D WOR K</p><p>How mobility fits into the larger societal and cultural landscape has been exploredwidely in the literature by a variety of social scientists and related disciplines, includingorganizational development, technology design, market research and economics. Whatwe have found absent, with few exceptions, are ethnographic accounts that focus onunderstanding the details of the personal experiences of people who are caught up inthe process of restructuring their existence as they transition from traditional to flexiblework styles. This volume is intended to contribute to remedying that deficiency.</p><p>A few anthropologists have placed ethnographic exploration at the forefront of theirinvestigations, framing behavioral changes within a broader social and historical context.For example, a team of anthropologists from San Jose State University carried out anexemplary ten-year study of the adaptations and choices busy two-earner couples andtheir children make in their lives at home and at work. Although they address mobilityonly implicitly, they describe the ways in which new communication technologies areintegrated (and resisted) in the daily lives of SiliconValley families, and track themundaneinteractions of these families in detail as they use a plethora of techno-gadgets to cope withdaily responsibilities and plan activities, both personal and professional.4 These accountsprovide a detailed understanding of how, in an effort to be efficient and productive,working families find themselves overloaded with activities, and often frustrated andeven baffled by the lives they are living.5</p><p>napa B u l l e t i n 3 0 / I n t r o d u c t i o n : Tr a c k i n g t h e C o n t e x t o f M o b i l e L i v e s 3</p></li><li><p>Corporate interests have crept into these investigations, but in so doing they haveenriched our understanding of the implications of mobility and remote work. Notsurprisingly, there is a concomitant turn toward the concerns of corporations and otherlarge governmental and NGOs by anthropologists and other social scientistsnot inthe least because these entities are most likely to fund research in this arena. Corporateinterests became particularly strong when it appeared clear that, with the decline in thenumber of onsite office workers, companies could substantially reduce their architecturalfootprint, thereby saving on real estate and building maintenance costs (Harrison et al.2004). At the same time, there emerged a concern with how to manage mobile workers,in part conceived of as a control and supervision issue (Staples et al. 1998), but also tosome extent as a growing concern with employees quality of life and worklife balance(Benko and Weisberg 2007; Covey 1989).</p><p>As will become evident, the present volume builds on previous studies of the interfaceof work and technology, yet differs somewhat in style and focus. The eight contrib-utors, themselves engaged in new forms of working and the challenges of having tomanage the altered worklife relationships brought about by fast-changing communica-tion and information technologies, turn inward to offer analyses of their own behaviors,using reflection and ethnographic description as a point of departure. Stylistically andmethodologically, this results in an auto-ethnographic approach that is shared across thearticles. As anthropologists who not only study remote, nomadic, and mobile workersbut who are also remote, nomadic and mobile themselves, the contributors offer notonly detailed behavioral observations but also a synthesis of the patterns they uncover,as well as insightful interpretations of their meaning. Moreover, the present volume iscomparative in nature, in that the authors offer insights into the process of constructingnew kinds of lifescapes as they compare life in traditional work roles with the realitiesof their existence as mobile workers. They thus begin to draw the outlines of what thesechanges are beginning to mean, both for a large number of the working population andthe organizations that employ them.</p><p>In addition to the stylistic and methodological difference between this volume andothers, there is also a difference in focus. Although other researchers might centertheir investigations on technology, work, family, or gender, we begin with a definiteand persistent focus on mobility and bridge our discussions to other topics from thiscenter.</p><p>We have structured the articles around the lived experiences of mobile workers, butwe realize that the issues, insights, strategies, feelings, and behaviors that are shared bythe authors are not exclusive. Workers from a traditional nine-to-five office may havesimilar experiences when much of their work is facilitated by information technologies.Examples of issues that both mobile and traditional workers face include turning onand turning off work, presenting professional value to employers and coworkers, andthe need to construct a more fluid identity that can function in a variety of situations.Although the very nature of work is changing, there are nevertheless many commonrequirements for any workplace. These include adapting to teamwork and team structure,</p><p>4 napa B u l l e t i n 3 0 / I n t r o d u c t i o n : Tr a c k i n g t h e C o n t e x t o f M o b i l e L i v e s</p></li><li><p>and acknowledging the changing relationships and responsibilities that emerge in newsocial formations.</p><p>Traditional and new-style workers alike feel the effects of keeping people, things,and ideas related to work and leisure connected and integrated as they move throughtheir busy days. It is our intention not to make a strict divide between traditional andmobile workers in this volume. At the same time, however, we do feel that the mobileexperience intensifies these issues and gives them more prominence. For example, thephysical requirements of mobility and the extensive organizational preparation it requiressignificantly increase the effort it takes to maintain integration. Thus, by providing someadditional insights into this lifestyle based on firsthand narratives, we introduce newconcepts related to mobile work and expand existing ideas related to work dominatedand facilitated by information technology.</p><p>A B ROAD D E F I N I T I O N OF T E R M S</p><p>At a time when work patterns are rearranging themselves, it is no surprise to see theemergence of special terminologies for talking about nonworkplace spaces and places inwhich work is performed. At this time, some of the most common terms are remotework, mobile work, contract and freelance work, or telecommuting. Whatever the label,this work is generally flexible, temporary, nomadic, independent, virtual, or distributed.Because this worklifestyle is as yet without a consistent definition either in scholarshipor in practice, we have left it to the authors to define flexible work from their ownperspectives. However, we do want to suggest some terminology in this introduction...</p></li></ul>

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