Meet the PA of 2010 - High-tech fantasy will not be cheap
Interview by Bridget Cowan
You work from home three days a week, talk to your boss over a video screen and half of all PAs are men. Yet you are unlikely to meet a partner at work. Instead, you prefer to surf the Web for lovers.
After all, a distance-learning degree from Harvard, short breaks to visit the foreign friends you have met in online chat rooms and 60-hour weeks leave little time for relationships. Besides, a live-in partner and marriage, in particular, would mean limiting your genetic options.
Sci-fi lunacy, or life for a typical PA in 2010? It all depends on G3 technology and the Internet, says the futurologist Professor Richard Scase: "Handheld devices that receive and transmit video, large files and images will enable working on the move to become a reality."
This could have a huge effect on how we work and socialise. While the dream of lying on a beach and firing off the occasional e-mail could be within reach, the flipside will be longer hours and more anxiety due to short-term contracts and professional and personal isolation.
"Women, though, with their greater social and emotional capital, can manage themselves and will relish living alone," says Professor Scase. Single men will be isolated and suffer more than their girlfriends after break-ups. Exercise and a vegetarian diet will be common.
"Urban places will be safer," adds Professor Scase. "Citizens will be able call police response centres direct, and tagging those with criminal records will be taken for granted."
Switching off will not be an option as the distinction between work and play evaporates. Popping into the office on an ad-hoc basis will be the reality for many PAs. Face-to-face contact will become a luxury. With at least 30 per cent of the labour force self-employed, it will be cheaper to chat over the videophone than to go to the office. And wandering around in pyjamas and watching old films between creating PowerPoint presentations is heaven compared with suits and commuting. "People will be less stressed as they organise their own time," says Professor Scase.
Although people will work longer hours by 2010, working lives will be relatively brief - which will not be without cost. By insisting on regular health tests, insurers will predict how long a person should live, and be able to charge them accordingly. A fit, healthy person will pay higher premiums as the company will be shelling out for some people from retirement in, say, their late fifties until they are 90. Forty years of quality leisure time will not come cheap.
Fortunately, most women will be earning enough to afford these premiums. Glass ceilings will be left in shards as equal numbers of men and women are in top jobs, predicts Scase. And, if women do meet obstacles, they will start their own businesses. With an average of 2,000 contacts in most address books, from university courses and study chatrooms, networking will be easy.
PAs, who by 2010 will be called corporate managers, will be "the glue that holds an organisation together," says Professor Scase, and being nice to the PA will be beneficial. Women, he says, will be vulnerable to men who use their position as hirer and firer to curry sexual favours. But under the threat of legal proceedings, sexual politics will dwindle, as will office affairs. Online dating will be the best route to romance.
A plus side of e-mails is that they enable people to get to know each other before they meet. But, as people spend less time with each other, appearances will matter more, leading to a cosmetic surgery boom.
There seems a lot to revolutionise in eight years, so how close are the days when you can't pull a sickie without staging an Oscar-winning videophone performance? Already, developers in Sweden are legally obliged to install cables for people to work more easily from home.
In Britain, though, unless broadband and G3 are widely implemented, many of us will still be running for the Tube every weekday morning.
© Professor Richard Scase