There is a lot of movement toward so-called Zoom Towns.
By movement, I mean relocating to.
The Zoom Town reference is the catchy new phrase that cleverly brings together the notion of “Zoom” as in being able to work remotely (promulgated by the now-ubiquitous Zoom-like online capabilities), and combined with the homespun “Town” indication. The “Town” part suggests that as a remote worker, you can opt to live wherever you might wish to do so and not have to be residing in a major city for purposes of performing your job.
Many workers have assumed that they were doomed to always work in a big city environment for the entirety of their career. This assumption makes sense because that’s where the jobs are. In a sense, this is reminiscent of the old joke about why bank robbers rob banks, and the quippy reply is that they do so because that’s where the money is.
For purposes of starting and keeping a career underway, you pretty much had to always be willing to make the trek into a large city.
Consider this typical scenario. Like many such workers, you perhaps daily make that traffic-laden painstaking road-rage spurring drive into the downtown area. You park your vehicle and get charged exorbitant parking rates, which your employer won’t cover or does so as pennies on the dollar. Your car is also susceptible to getting stolen or damaged while you are doing your ten-hour grueling job and sitting stoically in your office.
The odds are that you would work in a tall skyscraper. Up the elevator each morning, and then down you come at the end of the workday. Day after day.
As they say, wash, rinse, and repeat.
Due to the commute, you consume a couple of hours a day in the tiresome act of driving a car. Thus, you sadly miss out on all sorts of fun activities and various special moments in life that might have otherwise leveraged your interests and attention. This is the cost you need to bear. Your need to commute is a necessity since it ties directly to your earning a living. And you need to earn a living to put food on the table and pay your rent or cover a hefty mortgage.
It all adds up.
Meanwhile, maybe you have repeatedly and persistently had quiet dreams of chucking the daily grind of being in an office.
Leaning a bit back in your dull and overworn office chair, you thoughtfully reasoned that there was no valid basis for requiring you to come to the office. Couldn’t you work from home? This seemed entirely plausible. Today’s telecommuting technology is plentiful, inexpensive, and easily utilized, which is a sea change from the way that things used to be (in the past, it was expensive, worked poorly, and unfortunately became a tough barrier to overcome).
Perhaps one of the biggest impediments was the overall perception of remote work and also the downcast view of those that sought to work remotely.
The opportunity to work remotely has nearly always been a slim chance possibility, at least up until the advent of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, very few workers were allowed to do their jobs remotely. Even asking to do so was oftentimes a verboten act and could stall your career. The expectation was that to do your job and also advance your career pursuits, you had to come to the office, and you had to physically interact in-person. That has been the prevailing wisdom.
Of course, times have changed.
Across the board nowadays, there is a realization that working remotely can indeed be productive.
Those that earlier contended that remote workers would be slackers have learned that the opposite oftentimes occurs. Businesses have discovered that remote workers will at times work more than they might have done so while in a normal office environment. They become nonstop workers. No more of those lingering coffee breaks or time spent idly standing around the office cooler. Instead, remote workers do their work, and do their work, and do their work, ad infinitum.
Believe it or not, there are concerns that remote workers are just as likely or more so likely to burnout as are their peers that work in a traditional office setting.
As a result of these qualms, some companies are requiring that their remote workers purposely include some health-inducing time breaks into their online schedules. When in an everyday office you are bound to have various office breaks that happen in a somewhat random fashion, whereby someone stops at your desk to chat, or maybe you go over to grab a pastry, but when at home there is a sense of completely zoning out all interruptions and utterly filling your work schedule with backbreaking meetings one after another.
Another kind of irony is that many remote workers are filling their otherwise normal commute time with doing more of their daily work efforts. In other words, suppose that your drive to work was about an hour in length, thus a daily roundtrip consisted of two hours, during which you were essentially non-functional in any work-related capacity. This meant that you worked an eight or ten-hour day and had that additional two hours of commute time.
Some remote workers are doing the customary eight to ten hours and then tossing the former commute time also into the work rubric routine. In that manner, they are working more like ten to perhaps twelve hours per day. Even though those commutes involved the drudgery of driving, they at least gave some respite from doing work. Now, the commute is gone, but the work time has seemingly expanded (though to clarify, that’s not necessarily what the employer intended and nor especially demands, and instead tends to be a choice made by remote workers that are seeking to get as much work done as humanly possible).
In any case, it sure seems like remote work is now a viable option.
Some believe that it might be a fad and will gradually fade away. Others vehemently argue that the business world has now changed, irrevocably, and there is a strident and everlasting realization that remote work is here to stay. Businesses can cut back on those office expenses. Workers generally seem to like the remote working approach. All in all, with the dam having burst, as it were, there is a belief that there is no turning back.
Okay, if remote work is now a widely available option (well, for those types of jobs that remote work is feasible), this also means that the worker does not need to head into a large city downtown area for purposes of doing their job. You can choose to work from anywhere, pretty much, as long as you can establish an electronic network connection and be able to have reliable and relatively stable online access.
The good news is that in the United States, this means that you can essentially work in nearly any town (some exceptions apply, but those are relatively rare).
The newly mobilized professional worker is heading out of the big cities and into the smaller towns across the country. Rather than being jampacked into a metropolis that is teeming with zillions of people, you can live in a rural area or a suburb that you perhaps previously only dreamed of living in. These are places that offer lowered costs of living. You can get more affordable housing, have better schools nearby, and likely be nearer to vast green spaces.
Also, the odds are that the locales you might select are going to have bike lanes, making the act of getting around a lot easier and reducing your reliance on using a car. Neighborhoods tend to be walkable, offering expansive sidewalks, and safer streets all told.
Naturally, many towns would love to attract those mobility freed remote workers. The odds are that such workers will have a reliable paycheck and become local taxpayers. Those workers are bound to revel in living in their chosen Zoom Town, wanting to give back to the community and build their lives and careers in that particular location.
Whereas a worker would usually expect to change jobs every so many years, oftentimes having to uproot their living situation, the thinking now is that those remote workers can likely stay put the preponderance of their working days. As long as they are able to remotely-swing from one remote job to another, during their career progression, there won’t be a need to physically relocate to a different city for that next favored career-building opportunity.
To recap, remote workers will be finding their way to Zoom Towns. Those workers will establish local roots and become devotees to that particular town or municipality. There won’t be an office that they need to commute to. Instead, they will be working from home.
Working from home, though, doesn’t mean that you are somehow homebound and never going to see the light of day. Rather than a commute, you’ll likely use a car to get over to the grocery store, perhaps a few times per week. You might use the car for dropping the kids off at the school or for taking them to an extracurricular activity. And so on.
If you look closely at the driving needs, it sure seems that a car becomes less essential and more intermittent in terms of usage for those that are living in a Zoom Town.
Will remote workers that have moved to a Zoom Town even need to own a car?
That’s a tough question to answer in today’s world.
If you don’t continue to own a car, it means that you would undoubtedly become dependent upon the vagaries of getting access to a car whenever a car is needed.
One difficultly entails possibly borrowing someone else’s car for those occasions when a car is needed. That can be awkward and there might be a scheduling conflict that means the other car is not readily available. There is also the concern that your driving skills might decay, and you will feel less familiar when at the wheel of the vehicle.
Another approach would be to become dependent upon a ridesharing service.
The problem with that option is that a small town might be constrained in ridesharing availability. In a big city, there are tons of ridesharing options. It seems that at any time of the day or night, you can nearly instantaneously have a ridesharing car fulfill your ride request. In a smaller town, the chances are that there would be long delays in getting a ridesharing car to your home, plus you might personally know the local driver and feel bad about asking them to give you a ride late at night or when it might otherwise seem disruptive to that person.
That’s then the conundrum.
Do you continue to own a car, even though you only intermittently need it, and ostensibly requires you to keep your driving skills sufficiently proficient to confidently and safely drive when you need to do so?
Or do you ditch the ownership of a car and opt to rely entirely on ridesharing, but that can be logistically limiting in a smaller town and have other distasteful challenges?
Perhaps the future provides an answer to this dilemma.
Keep in mind that the cars will gradually and inexorably become less dependent upon human drivers. I’m referring to the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars. These are cars that encompass an AI driving system that does all the driving. Humans aren’t at the wheel.
That brings us to today’s intriguing question: Will the emergence of AI-based true self-driving cars be welcomed in Zoom Towns, and if so, why might that be the case?
Let’s unpack the matter and see.
Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars
As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.
These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.
Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).
Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).
For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.
You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.
Self-Driving Cars And Zoom Towns
For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.
All occupants will be passengers.
The AI is doing the driving.
Most pundits are predicting that self-driving cars will be owned and operated by large companies and done so as part of a ridesharing money-making enterprise. This means that presumably, the major ridesharing firms of today will likely embrace self-driving cars, and there might be automakers and other corporations that newly jump into the ridesharing fray.
I’m known for my somewhat contrarian viewpoint that there will still be individual ownership of cars, including self-driving cars, and those self-driving cars will not solely be the province of large firms (see my analysis at this link here). Furthermore, my prediction is that people will join together in small-sized cooperatives, sometimes referred to as pods, and will collectively buy, own, and operate a self-driving car for the benefit of the group (see my discussion at this link here).
In however manner it comes to be, let’s assume that self-driving cars will be principally used on a ridesharing basis.
Part of the rationale for using a self-driving car in a ridesharing format is that a self-driving car can generally be used 24×7, meaning that it is available for use at any time. Most people only use their conventional human-driven cars about 5% of the time. In essence, a conventional car sits around 95% of the time, altogether idle and unused. This is to a great extent due to the driver, or more correctly, due to the constraint of requiring that a human driver is available to be at the wheel of the vehicle.
The nice thing about an AI driving system is that it will drive whenever requested to do so. There aren’t any rest breaks needed. No need to get some food to continue the driving chore. No sleep is needed. Around the clock, a self-driving car is available to be in-motion and underway (the exception being the act of refueling, and of course for any needed maintenance).
How does this relate to Zoom Towns?
The odds are that Zoom Towns are going to welcome self-driving cars with great eagerness and support.
As mentioned earlier, the remote workers that are moving into Zoom Towns do not need a car per se. They do need to use a car, but not necessarily own a car. Their requirement for a car is that it be available when they need one. In addition, they are either tired of having to drive or their driving skills are gradually decaying.
Into the picture comes the vaunted self-driving car.
You can have a self-driving car come to your home and give you a lift to the grocery store. A self-driving car can provide a ride to the school for you and your kids. Indeed, you can have your children ride in a self-driving car without you being present, assuming you are comfortable with there being no adult-supervision directly in the self-driving car during their driving journey (for more about this topic, see the link here).
Overall, a self-driving car provides the solution to those intermittent needs for having access to a car, plus it relieves the remote professional from having to undertake the driving task. This also means that the remote worker doesn’t have to bother the local ridesharing human drivers about giving them a lift at odds hours or for personal chores that one doesn’t want the whole town to know about. There is a certain kind of added privacy that can potentially arise due to the use of self-driving cars (well, yes and no, and there are various privacy qualms to keep in mind, see my column coverage).
All in all, self-driving cars are going to be a handy addition to Zoom Towns.
You can anticipate that Zoom Towns will encourage that self-driving cars be available and operated throughout their township. This might include tax breaks or other incentives to get self-driving car operators to put their vehicles in that particular town. Expect too that Zoom Towns will likely advertise that they are embracing the adoption of self-driving cars and therefore showcasing mindfulness about the needs of the locals in their town and illustrate an awareness of meritorious technological innovations.
I’d like to end this discussion with that aforementioned upbeat note, but there is, unfortunately, a bit of a rub about the notion of self-driving cars being readily available in Zoom Towns.
Are you ready?
The problem is that the owners and operators might not place their self-driving cars in Zoom Towns.
If you owned and operated a self-driving car, you want it to be used nonstop. For every mile that the self-driving car is transporting someone, dollars are being earned. Given the potential cost of a self-driving (we don’t know what it will be, some are asserting it might be high, see my discussions on the pricing aspects), the self-driving car ought to be utilized in a maximum usage manner.
The thing is, a Zoom Town might not entail that kind of use.
Furthermore, a big city is likely to provide a richer opportunity for maximizing the use of a self-driving car. Sadly, the bottom line is that it might not be prudent to put a self-driving car into a Zoom Town and instead place it into a big city environment.
This is especially the case when self-driving cars are first available and relatively scarce.
Over time, assuming that there is a ramping up of the number of self-driving cars, it could be that the big cities become saturated with self-driving cars. At that juncture, which is admittedly quite distant in the future, the ridesharing opportunities might begin to look attractive in the Zoom Towns as an alternative to the no-longer viable and hypercompetitive settings of the big cities.
That does seem to put a damper on the clamoring by Zoom Towns to have self-driving cars in their midst. It could be that self-driving cars are desired, but not made available in the near-term, and those Zoom Towns could end-up being one of the last to see the emergence of self-driving cars.
I don’t want to end this discussion on such a sour note.
And, I don’t have to.
Recall the point I made earlier about my belief that self-driving cars might be owned by small groups or pods or collectives. This might be the means for self-driving cars to be included in Zoom Towns. The collectives that join together to get a self-driving car are not necessarily aiming to solely make a buck (that would be a nice bonus). If they can get at least a break-even, the investment into the self-driving car would be worthwhile. Also, the Zoom Town may aid those investors, offering various local incentives to aid them in their quest to make self-driving cars locally available for use.
Will we have self-driving cars in Zoom Towns?
Where there is a will, there is a way.
I’d bet that Zoom Towns will become a stellar example of the use of self-driving cars. This will come as quite a surprise to many of the pundits that see self-driving cars as only financially sensible in those big city environs. A retort to that attitude is this: Don’t underestimate the earnestness of Zoom Towns and the collective wisdom and grit of the mobility-minded remote workers that will be inhabiting those lovely and to-date undervalued townships.
Go, Zoom Towns, go.