Avoid the wealth pit in the brave new world

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 10/88 item 02 - scanned

By David Tebbutt

Someone's finally put a name to something that's been bothering me for a long time. It is the 'acceleration syndrome'. It refers to those people who squeeze the maximum productivity out of their lives. They're surrounded by computers, cellular telephones, fax machines, answering machines and radio pagers to maximise productivity and income.

A year or two back, these folks would have been part of a self-employed minority. Now, many executives own car phones, computers at home, answerphones, pagers and personal fax machines. It'll be the middle managers next then the secretaries and personal assistants.

As life at the top becomes more and more accelerated, so this new work ethic will permeate further down the organisation. Huge productivity increases will be offset by a huge increase in stress-related illnesses. Health insurance will assume far more significance than a pension scheme. After all, most of these poor souls won't live to pensionable age.

So is this really what the information age is all about? It strikes me as complete madness, but the evidence that this is the case is before our eyes. Unlike a midwife, who can't predict the likelihood of the newborn child becoming a crook, we have at least some glimmerings of what we're bringing into this world.

I'm not suggesting we stop. I don't suppose we could anyway. But we must find ways of managing our ever-increasing computer power more sensibly. It doesn't make any sense for half the population to be rushing round like maniacs while the other half is on the scrap heap.

On a BBC 'Futures' programme broadcast in 1982, Clive Sinclair (now Sir Clive) reckoned that after the 1990s, 'we should face a Golden Age, as fully intelligent machines appear, bringing immense new wealth. In the decades following the '90s, individual wealth could rival that of a Roman Emperor'. He still thinks this. And he means we could all be wealthy, not just a chosen few.

The problem, as always, is how to spread this wealth out. The 'accelerated' ones are coining it, for sure. So are the owners of the companies in which the staff are accelerated.

But maybe what we need is a movement towards a world in which people do just enough work to maintain a reasonable standard of living and then switch to leisure or family activities, leaving others to earn their slice of the pie.

Don't think I'm a Mr Goody Two Shoes. I'm not. I already use three computers, an answerphone, two telephones and work my socks off to provide for my wife, three children and a dog. I do try to put a notional ceiling on my earnings and, if I'm getting near it, will quite often ease off.

Many people would regard my self-imposed ceiling as more than 'a reasonable standard of living', and therein lies one of the problems. How many people would deliberately stop short of their earning potential?

The other problem, and it's a related one, is that I find it quite difficult to relax. This is partly because I know what I could be earning. It's also because I often haven't the foggiest idea what to do.

'What's this all got to do with us?' I hear you ask. At the moment, you commission the equipment, install or write the software, train the users and make sure everything works. This is all very necessary to enable the users to extract the best from their systems. I say we can go further than this. Why not introduce some 'lifestyle' courses which show your hyperactive customers how to avoid computer induced burn-out, and how to live in a more leisured society?

If we're ever going to truly benefit from computers, someone has to show us how to make the transition to the new age. It seems to me that such courses would be a significant step in this direction. They would complement the other side of your business beautifully, and would be an excellent opportunity for your company to make even more money.