JOHN LIFTON calls them ``information independents.'' Robert Wurnstedt likes the label ``lone eagles.'' Patricia Braus prefers the old-fashioned ``freelancers.'' And New York State officially calls them ``telecommuters.''
Whatever the label, these are the growing millions of Americans across the country who either choose to work at home, are sent home to work by their employer, or move to a beautiful place to live and work at home.
Computers, modems, fax machines, laser printers, and satellites make the ``telecottage'' possible. Distance is no longer a hindrance to decisions. Communication of any kind can be almost instant. The result? Some experts say a cultural revolution is under way, and traditional concepts of work and home will be reshaped, or at least rewired.
``I compare it to what happened at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution,'' says Mr. Lifton, an architect in Telluride, Colo., who is planning to build a small town for ``information independents.'' He says, ``In two generations, about 70 percent of the work force moved from rural towns to large cities. Over the next quarter-century we'll see substantial relocation from urban centers to rural centers.''
So new is the phenomenon that definitive statistics are not available. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics says 20 million Americans do some work at home, but it does not keep track yet of full-time home workers. Link Resources, a New York research firm, says this year 32 million people are working at home, either full time or part time. Link says the number has grown at an annual average rate of 12.7 percent since 1989.
Home Office Computing, a magazine, reports that there were 6.6 million telecommuters (working at home for an employer), up 20 percent from the year before. Link Resources says the telecommuter figure is 7.6 million. In the San Francisco Bay area, the Independent Workers Association estimates that since 1980, the number of people working at home has gone from 49,000 to 106,000.
N the late '80s, many US companies sought ways to cut expenses. One answer has been telecommuting, allowing companies to retain more employees than otherwise. As prices for personal computers fell, skilled unemployed professionals found work at home.
Many dissatisfied professionals, escaping the corporate world, urban crime, and congested cities, have moved to the West with their computers to live and work. The Center for the New West in Denver describes these workers as ``lone eagles.''
``There is a definite trend with people moving to rural areas and wanting to go it on their own,'' says Tom Ross, of Buena Vista, Colo., co-author of ``Country Bound.'' His book tells readers how to ``Trade your Business Suit Blues for Blue Jean Dreams.''
Patricia Braus, a freelance writer in Rochester, N.Y., has written extensively about the ``lone eagles'' lifestyle. ``Generally they are well-educated, former middle managers at companies, and they are highly motivated,'' she says. ``They have corporate contacts and probably have a large investment portfolio. These are not your average Americans.''
Robert Wurnstedt, spokesman for the Center for the New West, says the successful ``lone eagle'' is an entrepreneur. ``He has to bring some business with him,'' he says, ``but he's got to go out and get business and be a real self-starter. It helps to be near an airport, too.''
Lifton's ``Skyfield'' for ``information independents'' would be a planned town for 1,800 near Telluride. It would include the latest in telecommunications as well as schools and recreation. He expects to break ground in 1995.
``I don't like the phrase `lone eagle,' '' he says. ``It's misleading, as if people want to be hermits. The reason many people want to relocate is because they are seeking community.''
In Wellesley, Mass., near Boston, graphic designer and illustrator Dorothy Cullinan has been working at home since 1977. While most of her clients are in the Boston area, two are in Pennsylvania.
``Between fax and overnight mail,'' she says, ``there is no problem servicing them.'' Working at home, she says, is personally satisfying. She has control over her own time and is at home when her two children return from school. Her husband works for an insurance company.
Mr. Ross suggests that anyone thinking about leaving big-city life for quiet life surrounded by mountains should think long and hard. ``We have found in our research,'' he says, ``that a lot of people make this transition with less study time than they do for a two-week vacation.''