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Facsimile messages, electronic mail, other forms of digital data, Internet - broke not only physical barriers but also temporal ones. Today, virtual offices are not only spatially virtual - but also temporally so. This means that workers can collaborate not only across continents but also across time zones. They can leave their work for someone else to continue in an electronic mailbox, for instance.
These technological advances precipitated transmutation of very concepts of "work" and "workplace". The three Aristotelian dramatic unities no longer applied. Work could be performed in different places, not simultaneously, by workers who worked part time whenever it suited them best.
Flextime and work from home replaced commuting (much more so in Anglo-Saxon countries, but they have always been harbingers of change). This fitted squarely into social fragmentation which characterizes today's world: disintegration of previously cohesive social structures, such as nuclear (not to mention extended) family.
All this was neatly wrapped in ideology of individualism, presented as a private case of capitalism and liberalism. People were encouraged to feel and behave as distinct, autonomous units. The perception of individuals as islands replaced former perception of humans as cells in an organism.
This trend was coupled with - and enhanced by - unprecedented successive multi-annual rises in productivity and increases in world trade. New management techniques, improved production technologies, innovative inventory control methods, automatization, robotization, plant modernization, telecommunications (which facilitates more efficient transfers of information), even new design concepts - all helped bring this about.
But productivity gains made humans redundant. No amount of retraining could cope with incredible rate of technological change. The more technologically advanced country - higher its structural unemployment (i.e., level of unemployment attributable to changes in very structure of market).
In Western Europe, it shot up from 5-6% of workforce to 9% in one decade. One way to manage this flood of ejected humans was to cut workweek. Another was to support a large population of unemployed. The third, more tacit, way was to legitimize leisure time. Whereas Jewish and Protestant work ethics condemned idleness in past - current ethos encouraged people to contribute to economy through "self realization", to pursue their hobbies and non-work related interests, and to express entire range of their personality and potential.
This served to blur historical differences between work and leisure. They are both commended now. Work, like leisure, became less and less structured and rigid. It is often pursued from home. The territorial separation between "work-place" and "home turf" was essentially eliminated.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.