Monday, May 30, 2011

Reading :: Internet and Change

Internet and Change: An Ethnography of Knowledge and Flexible Work
By Jens Kjaerulff

Although this book was published in 2010, it reports on a study the author conducted in 1999 after seeing a 1998 Danish television broadcast about teleworkers meeting for weekly get-togethers. As Kjaerulff describes it, the broadcast claimed that these teleworkers got together to help each other's work - to provide feedback over lunch (pp.15-19). One teleworker was quoted as saying that "we need colleagues" (p.18). Intriguingly, this weekly lunch sounds a lot like a phenomenon that arose later in the US and came to be known as Jelly.

But when Kjaerulff arrived to study these teleworker luncheons,  he found that they were not as advertised. He attended these weekly lunches for 16 months as well as visiting participants' houses. But "My fieldwork gradually revealed the apparent collegial engagement among the groups' members to be considerably exaggerated" (p.29). The Wednesday Lunch Group did indeed meet, and did indeed value its meetings, but they rarely if ever worked or discussed work during the lunches (p.31). Rather, they connected (p.30).

Given this revelation, Kjaerulff began studying how people from the lunch group worked in their homes. Using surveys, semistructured and unstructured interviews, focus groups, and participant-observation, Kjaerulff examined a handful of families and found some of the issues familiar to the telework literature: people wanted flexibility so that they could spend more time with their family, so they could work extended hours away from the office, and occasionally so they could hide how efficiently they worked (a la Tim Ferriss).

Overall, I'm afraid the book was not very illuminating. One disturbing sign was that although the book was published in 2010, most of his sources were contemporaneous with the study (around 2000). At one point - my apologies, I didn't record the page number - Kjaerulff cites several studies on telework that stop right at 2000. To me, this suggests that the author wrote the study some time back, then lightly revised it ten years later for publication. Another issue is that even though the author studied several families, the book focuses on just three of them, and we don't get a good sense of how generally their results hold. However, if you're studying telework or Jellies or coworking, the book may provide some useful background information.

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