The More Things Change

This story points up the human dimensions of change, and our capacity to treat yesterday's revolution as today's orthodoxy. The challenge for Teleworking, and all Futureworking initiatives, is to work with the grain of our behaviours, not against it.


The year is 1779. In a large field of barley two men are leaning on their scythes, watching the activity in the next field. There, large gangs of men are measuring out great distances with measuring chains. Others are clearing away the top surface with shovels and picks. A gentleman with a top hat seems to be in charge, running energetically between the groups and shouting orders. Eventually he comes within hailing distance of the farm hands.

They enquire what is the purpose of all the activity. " We are building a factory ", replied the gentleman, smiling proudly. The two look at each other puzzled, " What is a factory ? " one asks eventually. The builder replies animatedly " Its a an enormous building, large as a church, no, a cathedral, with high brick walls and a solid slate roof. " He smiled when he saw how impressed were his interlocutors. " And what is it for, this factory ? ", asked the taller of the two. " Well, it is for the production of cloth, lots of it ".

The farm labourers were clearly perplexed by this response. " But cloth is made in the cottages , by the womenfolk. " they countered. " Yes, but this new factory will produce much more cloth, on machines powered by a water mill over by the river. " The builder was into his stride now and waxed lyrical about how many machines and workers would be employed in the factory, producing cloth 14 hours a day, every day.

The yokels did not like the sound of this vision. " Its not right " moaned the older of the two. " There's always been fields here, since time began. People are meant to work in the fields, or from home. Home is for family." " Who do you think is going to come and work in your horrible factory " the taller one inquired. The builder took on a more serious demeanour, and looking the two up and down, finally said " You, my friends, you will come ".


It is now 1997. Two men are leaning on a wall watching the old factory being demolished. Not without some emotion, as both had spent some years employed in its delapidated grandeur. Soon it would be flattened and the site would revert to its ancient greenery.

A large saloon car pulled up noiselessly beside the observers, and a distinguished gentleman got out. He was immediately recognisable to them as the former owner of the factory site. He stood beside them, without acknowledgement. Eventually he sighed and said " Sad isn't it ".

The three then swapped reminiscences of the old edifice, from both sides of the industrial divide. Finally one of the former workers asked " What happens now then ? " The industrialist perked up at this question and responded with gusto. He described how most of the work would be out-sourced, and that to reduce overheads many of the workers would be working from home, using computers and linked to a new Head Office by modem.

" Its not right " moaned the older of the two workmen. " There's always been a factory here. People aren't meant to work at home. Home is for family. People want to go somewhere else to work, not home. What kind of people will sign up for this new deal ?" he challenged the businessman,, who took on a more serious demeanour, and looking the two up and down, finally said " You, my friends, you will ".

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