Virtual Wetware

The paradigm of telecommuting seems to have been downshifted into the slow lane of the Information Superhighway. This can be attributed to the (probably neurologically-hardwired) managerial preference/prejudice for having a human being on-site and available. For what, you might ask? Time-wasting meetings, shows of force to customers and upper management, the occasional regrettable-but-necessary tongue-lashing, Friday beer bashes, and the whole round of corporate rituals that we elves and trolls so often abhor.

Management just doesn't like telecommuting. Moreover -- though they often wouldn't be caught dead saying so for fear of defections to competitors -- employers would prefer that we be there at reasonable hours (8-5), that we appear reasonably well-dressed and well-groomed, that we be courteous and deferential, and not too evil-smelling or wild-eyed, and so on. Bonus points for being young and fresh-faced.

Most of that is, of course, far, far too much to ask of your average hacker.

But perhaps it could be faked.

Let's take a look out the window. Hey, there goes one: a young 20-something who happened to make the horrible mistake of majoring in Medieval Literature, or Slavic Languages, or Social Psychology, or Rhetoric with a minor in French. Sure, they could cleverly deconstruct your last three resume entries as a Baudrillardian simulacrum for the dialectic between the technology of dominance and the dominance of technology, and probably even get it published in some glossy quarterly put out by Columbia University Press.

But career prospects? Don't make me laugh.

So -- is that an angst-ridden waste of protoplasm strolling by? Not necessarily. Technology to the rescue!

Ditch the more visible piercings if need be, supply some kind of business wardrobe, fake a resume, ditto for references, coach in technobabble, and -- here's the gimmick -- for the actual interview, WIRE THE CANDIDATE FOR SOUND. Get a cellular link into a hearing-aid-size package and you can get them through it. All you need to do is speak the answers to the interviewer's questions from your remote mountain aery or satellite-uplink-equipped mobile home in Baja, or wherever, and your virtual wetware unit in Cupertino or (no, God, please!) Fremont, or some other godforsaken place simply repeats verbatim: "So you've lost the assembly source code for your ATM switch's boot-ROMs, and you need someone to patch the binary? Well, I was going to do a little something on James Cameron's next film, but your problem sounds SO much more interesting..."

Sans the epithets, sneering remarks, and bored tone, needless to say.

And why stop there? Maintain the same link for actual on-the-job performance purposes, and you could juggle two or three of these worker-units. Naturally, this means that you must be ready for real-time verbal interaction at a moment's notice, for all those corporate rituals as they occur (often quite spontaneously at the most inconvenient moments, as we all know); but hey, it's still the Next Best Thing to Being There. (There, I said it, so sue me now.)

Your wetware proxy server is on site with the cellular uplink pocket-ready for a surreptitious autodial whenever a manager or nosy co-worker heaves into view. Just make sure you can tunnel their X packets to your laptop (or whatever software proxy services are required for you to see what's on their screen and vice-versa.) And keep a range of convenient excuses (tendinitis break, nicotine fit, sudden call of nature) on the tips of their tongues in the event that your telepresence is demanded in more than one workplace at any given moment. But hey - nobody said the Electronic Frontier was gonna be easy, you know? You'll get through.

Play your cards right and you'll do MORE than get through - you'll make out like a bandit! You collect your $40-$90/hour consulting rate on each gig, and kick back maybe only $5-$7/hour of this to your representative warm bodies. Their job is to hang out in a suit, stay out of trouble, keep YOU out of trouble, and get you wired up for all the obligatory voice/face-level corporate primate-dominance-hierarchy protocols, as required.

What do THEY do on the job? Doesn't matter much, so long as it's below management's and coworker's radar. They can surf the Web, write e-mail to their friends, churn out plays, poems, The Great American Novel, whatever. Many people would love to be paid to do this. (Yeah, I know - a lot of them are, already....)

At some point, it might behoove you to come clean about it all. Resist this as long as possible. But if you must--

Of course, your boss will be shocked, but will he do anything? Probably not - after all, it's working out pretty well, isn't it? Maybe, your boss, upon careful reflection, will ask you if this HR strategy can be replicated across his entire subhierarchy.

Including his own position.

And maybe, eventually, his boss....

And there you'll have it: Night of the Living Wetware Proxy Servers.

Remember: you heard it here first.