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How Your Job Is Different, Because the Internet Was Invented

Topics: Work Culture

Despite what you might have read on social media, yesterday was not actually the 25th anniversary of the internet — that happened in March 2014, 25 years after Tim Berners-Lee proposed an information management system that would become the network that underlies the World Wide Web. That web is what turned 25 yesterday, and if you’re reading this, chances are you have plenty of good reasons to care. For example, there’s a good chance your job wouldn’t exist in its current form without the web and internet.

anniversary of the internet
Image Credit: Hannah Wei/Unsplash

Of course, there are plenty of jobs that obviously rely on both, like web developer or blogger. But even if your job doesn’t owe its existence to the internet/web, your entire way of working would be different without them:

  1. You’d have to talk to people face-to-face or on the phone.

In 2015, over 205 billion emails were sent and received each day, according to a report from The Radicati Group. If that makes you want to throw your laptop into the nearest Dumpster and give up technology forever, consider: without email, we’d have to do a lot of that communicating in person or via telephone.

In person obviously presents challenges: you can’t always get hold of the person you need, when you need them, especially if they’re higher up the org chart. But, the phone offers its own special form of anxiety; everyone likes to pick on millennials for hating the phone, but as social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson points out, talking on the phone is anxiety-provoking for good reason.

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“Whether you’ve talked on the phone a lot or not, you still have to respond in the moment,” she explains to Business Insider. “You have to respond immediately, so there’s a greater likelihood you’ll choke.”

  1. Transmitting information would require unreliable technologies like the phone, fax machines, or interoffice envelopes.

Chances are, you have no idea if your office even has a fax machine, and if someone asks you for a fax, you’re more likely to send them a scan or use a software program that mimics faxing, right down to providing your signature. But in the olden days, people had to use the actual machine — and it never, ever worked.

Old-fashioned technologies had that in common: the effort-to-achievement ratio was poor. How do you know if someone receives your fax, or reads the document you send in one of those much-marked interoffice envelopes, or even listens to your phone message? You don’t. But with email, you can see the moment someone opens our message … and stalk them accordingly. There is no escape from your clutches in the internet age.

  1. It would be harder to keep a record of what you said or did.

Email creates its own digital paper trail, which is why career experts often advise following up on conversations and meetings with a confirmation message. Prior to email and the internet, you could rely on meeting notes for big conversations, but that was about it.

  1. Data analysis would probably be inaccessible to you.

In the era of Google Analytics, it’s hard to remember that there was a time when most workers had zero insight into how their work was going, but it’s true. Even if your job isn’t related to media, you might use a web-based system to track sales and crunch numbers or to log interactions with clients or coworkers. It’s just a lot easier to know when you’re gearing up for a pretty awesome yearly review, now that you can access this information.

  1. It would be harder to take a five-minute mental break without leaving your desk.

Want to check in with your brother across the country? Shoot him an email on your break. Having a rough day and need to recharge? Watch some baby animals on YouTube. You don’t need to get out of the office to get out of your head, when you have internet access.

  1. You wouldn’t be able to work from home.

At least 20 percent of American workers telecommute “at some frequency,” according to Global Workplace Analytics. While it might be technically possible to work from home without the internet, provided you can do your job over the phone or by yourself, it would be a lot less likely for most workers.

  1. You’d have to network in person.

Sure, there’s nothing like getting out there and glad-handing connections in person, but the internet offers an escape hatch for introverts who might otherwise have a pretty sparse network: social media. Connecting online is easy, nearly risk-free, and allows you to build connections from the comfort of your own home. No nametags or icebreakers required. No internet, no easy networking for the shy or inner-focused.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t all be bad news. The world before the internet also offered some advantages, including:

  1. Your workday would end when you left the office.

The downside of being able to work from home is that you can always be working. In many respects, being a worker now is like being a student forever — you can always do just a little bit more.

If the internet and email didn’t exist, your workday would stop when the whistle blew, and you’d slide right down the Brontosaurus tail like Fred Flintstone, into an afternoon and evening with your friends and family and hobbies. Also, vacations would mean leaving work behind entirely, and resuming it when you returned.

  1. Taking a break would mean getting to leave your desk.

Sure, you can take more frequent breaks if no one knows you’re scrolling through Instagram on the sly, but they’re not real breaks. To work at maximum productivity, you need to leave your desk now and then.

If the internet didn’t exist, with all its lovely distractions, you might realize that what you need is a 15-minute walk outside or a chat with a coworker over coffee, either of which could be better for your head than wasting time online.

  1. Interactions would cost more, in time and effort, and therefore potentially mean more.

Remember that earlier statistic about how many billions of emails you send and receive each day? Well, let’s just say that not all of those emails were crucial to the success of your employer’s business.

When interactions are more difficult, you’re less likely to undertake them lightly. This means that when you go through the effort to connect, there’s a greater chance that it’s for a good reason – which is why you get hundreds of emails every day, but most workers 25 years ago didn’t get hundreds of phone calls.

Of course, you can rectify this problem yourself, without creating an alternate reality in which the internet and the technologies it supports were never invented: before you send that message, just ask yourself if it’s really necessary. The same goes for taking breaks, and setting boundaries to your workday: if technological limitations don’t force you into healthy behaviors, you’ll have to do it yourself.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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