The last time I worked in Boston, I worked for a law firm that specialized in high tech and venture capital. This was 30 years ago. The head of the firm insisted, however, that attorneys not have computers in their offices, fearing that we would turn into our own "secretaries" and just fix typos on documents we were typing.
Fast forward thirty years.
My family came to Boston for the school year, and I feel like Rip Van Telecommuter. Or something. While I was away, everything changed.
Here in Boston, I don't work in a traditional office. I work out of ImpactHub, an entity located in dozens of cities offering shared desk space, conference rooms with smart walls and gigantic Apple TVs, a kitchen with endless coffee, fruit, and peanut M&Ms, free printing, Wi-Fi (of course), weekly lunches, awesome views from the 17th floor, a gym coming soon, and socializing with other entrepreneurs and founders of new and socially conscious ventures... all for $300 a month.
ImpactHub Boston actually looks out on the two skyscrapers where my old law firm was situated. That firm is long gone, by the way. But what's remarkable is to work today, you don't need your own office anymore. You just need the computer we weren't allowed to have on our desks.
Getting around? There's always the T, but how much more convenient is Uber? Two taps on the Uber smartphone app and a nice, clean car arrives right where I'm standing in a couple of minutes, takes me where I want to go, and bills my credit card, including the tip, usually for much less money than cab fare. I can also request a town car or a Suburban if I'm feeling fancy or have a lot of people to move. No money changes hands in the car, no receipts to lose, no chatty (or smelly) cabbies.
Speaking of transport, we were pricing a new Odyssey, but why surrender a car to Boston winters when there's ZipCar? A few bucks a month gives you a passcode that gets you into ZipCar's fleet of rental cars, conveniently parked a couple of blocks from wherever you are on Planet Earth. Jump in when you need it -- no standing for 40 minutes in a car rental place with bored, surly car rental agents trying to sell you insurance and gas. When you're done, drive it back to where you got it and lock the door. Finished. Radically cheaper than buying, insuring, gassing up, registering, and repairing a car of your own.
New iPhone's coming out. I could stand in line for hours... or I could go to TaskRabbit.com and hire a Tasker -- a person who does errands for me for hourly rates posted on the TaskRabbit website. I could have my Tasker stand outside the Apple Store for as many hours as I choose, and then call me when she's getting close...at which point I'd go take her place in line and claim my iPhone 6. My Tasker gets paid to hang out with other cool people on the iPhone line and make new friends. I get my phone without spending the night like a homeless person. Payment system same as Uber, above.
Trip to New York coming up. I could go to Hotwire or Priceline for a boring hotel room... or I could rent all or part of a private home -- actually thousands of them in Manhattan -- on VRBO.com and stay in the exact neighborhood I desire. Often for far less than the cost of that impersonal hotel.
Once in Manhattan, when I have some downtime... I could go to a movie by myself, but that's crazy money for two hours of often lackluster entertainment. Or I could go to Meetup.com and find hundreds of events, mostly free or just a few bucks, with like-minded people who want to have a good time. For example, this Saturday in NYC, one could do a photo shoot of Manhattan at 5 a.m., go for a yoga hike or run or bike in Central Park at 8 a.m., take a history tour of Governor's Island at 11, go pub crawling in the Village at 1, visit the Guggenheim with 70 (and counting) singles at 4:30, attend Arabic night (yes, there are hookahs and belly dancing) or see the Mayweather fight for free at Scores, both at 8 p.m. and top it off with Sexy Saturday, an Asian-flavored late night meetup in a downtown club.
All in one day, mind you. Total cost for all, and I mean all, of the above: around $25, plus the cost of beer on the pub crawl.
The point here is that the Internet offers what economist Joseph Schumpeter decades ago called "creative destruction"... on steroids. The buzzword today is disruption, meaning that an industry is suddenly upended by young techies who come up with a better, faster, cheaper, easier way to do something.
That something might be renting office space, disrupting the commercial real estate industry; Uber, disrupting the taxi industry; ZipCar, potentially disrupting new and used car sales and also car rentals; TaskRabbit, disrupting, well, something; and Meetup.com, which could disrupt everything from the entertainment industry to the exercise industry (why join a gym when you can work out on MeetUps for free?).
So here I sit at ImpactHub, surrounded no longer by the four walls of a private office but instead by entrepreneurs looking to create the next hot, disruptive thing, whether it's for-profit here in America or transforming healthcare in the developing world.
So which wise guys or wise gals teleported me into the future? All of them.