Cutting the Cord: Can we really work off the grid?

In the knowledge economy, the theory is that through the combination of knowledge and cognitive ability, and aided by technological tools such as laptops, mobile devices, and wireless access, we are now free to work from wherever and whenever we want.

For knowledge workers who find themselves in situations without internet access, a mobile device used as an improvised modem can be a lifesaver.  But how well does this backup plan work?  Can a knowledge worker stay connected and work remotely by mobile device alone?

As a test, I set out to work from home, using a Palm Centro running on the Sprint network as my sole point of internet access.  In addition, to further simulate the conditions of a knowledge worker “in the wild”, I would attempt to use it as my only phone line, for everything from internal meetings to external conference calls.

Starting from scratch, I set up Lotus Notes on my laptop.  Frustration set in as I was making local copies of databases, it literally took days to set up the local copies on the computer.  When a database would be downloading to a local copy, the speed of everything else would slow to an agonizing crawl – one misstep, one too many attempts to open even the smallest of e-mails would result in the dreaded white screen of Lotus Notes doom.  I resorted to doing this overnight, one database at a time, so I would still have enough bandwidth for e-mail, IM, and conducting online research.

Perhaps more problematic, the Palm Centro could only be used as a modem or a phone, but not both at the same time.  This led to some interesting situations; I admit that in desperation I used my regular phone to attend conference calls when it would be impossible for me to be off-line.  More than once, I found myself using the Centro for internet access to view a Web demo, my regular phone for the conference call, and so as not to overtax my bandwidth for the demo, my second laptop for IM backchannel communication with co-workers on the call.  Obviously this violated the rule I had set out for myself, but business before pleasure, so to speak.

I finally resorted to using Skype, which proved to be a good solution, despite the slight absurdity of using a phone as a modem for my laptop so I could talk on the phone.

In the coming weeks, I will share more thoughts on working wirelessly and lessons learned from my time on the last frontier of the knowledge economy, where the knowledge worker runs free and the internet access is ubiquitous.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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