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Downtown Oakland, California
January 24th, 2000

With My Apologies
We've had three or four inches of rain over these last two days, the first real storm of the season, and the commute was, from what I'm hearing, less than wonderful. I talk about my own commute, a 30 minute walk or a 5 minute drive, but there's no guarantee my circumstances will last. Who knows what will happen at work, who knows what will happen here where I'm living? I rent. That's a chancy business. Owning around here isn't a lot better.

There's only a few things you can do to shorten a commute (other than moving to Poughkeepsie): Increase the road capacity by building more roads and tracks or increase the number of people riding in any given car (or bus or train) or move people's homes and offices closer together. Or all of them together. My assumption, as a lapsed economics student who understood the curve of supply and demand, where it crossed, what it implied, is that people voting with their dollars prefer the current miserable life they lead on the road to any of the alternatives.

Alternatives? Raise the bridge tolls from $2 to $20 and allow vehicles with three or more passengers to cross them for nothing. Build more living units in the city, say 100,000 high rise condominiums and apartments in San Francisco to sop up the folks who want to live in the city, but can't afford it. Childless people, but maybe people with kids too if you can increase safety on the streets and the quality of the schools. Move more trains over the existing tracks. Encourage parks. And ferry boats.

Build more roads and bridges? I wonder if you can and I wonder how long it might take and I wonder what difference you'd see in the commuting conditions when you were done billions of dollars later. I think people intuitively know these things and I think that's why they stick to their cars, ever larger, ever more comfortable with phones and multiple speaker CD systems and FM radios and small television sets tuned to the stock market, making that two hour round trip to work each day just a little more bearable. Because who in the fuck can afford to live in the city without a garden and a back yard for the dog besides me and I'm not altogether sure I'm not kidding myself for literary reasons.

Moving work to where you live might actually be happening, the old "here it is, folks, sitting on Downtown Napa, California. your desk, ta! da!, the Internet" (but not this Internet). If you could conduct a meeting where the other members were present on, not this screen, but the wall, for example, the whole wall a video image available on the fly the way you might pick up a phone or push a button, could the kind of work you do every day be accomplished in that environment? Or how about setting up a smaller office space near your house where perhaps ten or twenty people arrived every day to use Internet communications systems like the wall images? I don't know. I've been working on some of these technologies that are now in their infancy. People reading this have been using them. How much better must a "chat room" be to make it useful in a business environment? How close, how large, how real must the images of a work group be to comfortably conduct work? How much of anyone's job needs some kind of real time "hands on" to happen?

I work with computers and networks. I need to put my hands on the machines and the software for testing, but my product is information. My product is a software image of a machine that can be shipped to the field on a CD or a specification sheet (put on the company web site) used when ordering new equipment. I could do everything I do right now out of my house except for the hardware and Fed Ex will deliver hardware. My guess is something like that is coming in my working lifetime or by the end of my working lifetime. And I think about that, mentally weighing one aspect against another, and remember my economics training and the part about free lunches.

What sort of life might that be, this working out of the home, alone? I don't see very many people during the day as it is. How good or bad is it to only see people on a screen? Maybe this bachelorhood business is going to get really bachelorized, locked up in the city with electronic eyes, fingers that touch only keys, words riding on a soft white hush of electrons. It's lunch and it's free, don't you see.

So maybe we'll build another bridge and widen the highways and add trains and build more houses out in the far suburbs and rents will go up in Oakland so high I'll have to move to Poughkeepsie and live in a tenement with Wuss. What sort of Internet connection can you get in Poughkeepsie? And where is this Poughkeepsie place anyway, except here, in my head?

(This piece started innocently enough with the rain and the commute, but it rapidly slipped into a muddy ditch spiel on commuting, which even I know to be mind numbingly dead end. And then Poughkeepsie. Where did that come from? What does it mean? Poughkeepsie? Could you have spelled Poughkeepsie without seeing it first on the screen? I couldn't. These things interest me, interestingly enough, but I need to do a lot of rewriting, I think, before anyone else will find it interesting and it's after my bedtime and I'm my own editor and publisher so I can give myself permission to stop and say goodnight. Goodnight, with my apologies.)

The banner photograph was taken recently in Oakland. The tree was photographed in Napa weekend before last.