What gives you pleasure? Holding a newspaper or getting the news? Buying or renting a DVD or watching the film? The pleasure usually comes from the information contained in the product, not from the physical product itself. Who actually likes driving to work?
A telecommute from the home office has to be preferable much of the time. As Sun’s head of public policy, Richard Barrington, likes to say, “We need to de-couple economic growth from the need to increase consumption of natural resources.” The experience is what counts rather than the means by which the experience is achieved.
All of these things are instances of dematerialisation, where consumption of atoms – paper, plastic and petrol – is replaced with the consumption of bits through the computer screen. Of course, there’s a short-term hit, in that computers, cables, fibre optics, routers, servers and all the rest of the paraphernalia have to be installed but, once in place, they can enable dematerialisation on a grand scale. This saves companies money and can improve the lives of employees and their families. And, maybe, it will save the inhabitants of this planet too.
At the heart of most dematerialisation is software. Even the humble mobile phone, with its camera, calculator, email, web access, instant messaging and so on, is the result of dematerialisation. How many devices would you have once needed to carry to achieve all that functionality? Even answering machines and faxes have been replaced by software equivalents.
The same goes for remote meetings. Cisco’s TelePresence is a classic. Special rooms are being set up all over the world. They look like boardrooms with an oval table. Typically, six seats on one side face three screens on the other. Each screen can display two people in high resolution. Each screen can be broadcast from the same office or from a different one. Instead of the time and expense of flying across continents for ‘face to face’ meetings, it could simply be a case of commuting to the nearest town or city.
In an extreme case of dematerialisation Cisco recently projected a holographic image of a person in San José to Bangalore, where he shared the stage with company chairman and CEO, John Chambers.