Thoughts on high-tech work

Anonymous student post

High-tech work strives us towards one goal: efficiency. People use high-tech tools which enable them to work faster, practically, and from anywhere around the globe (ex. pc, email, social network, etc…). Companies replace monotonous task work (ex. assembly line) with automated robots and other high tech. Simply put, high tech work is utilized on both a micro and macro level. On a micro level, as noted in the beginning, individual workers equip themselves with high tech tools enabling them to collaborate and work with peers constantly while adapting to the rapid pace of the ever changing climate of business. On a macro level, companies utilize high technology for aiding profit maximization and cutting labor costs. Companies can collect and manage customer data allowing companies to specifically target advertisements towards a user, increasing the rate of consumption rate – Social network giants such as Facebook sell user data to potential advertisers. For labor cuts, as mentioned at the beginning, replacing for example assembly line workers with automated robots is an example.

High tech work – efficiency, speed, profit maximization, cost cuts – sounds good for those who are able to adapt. However, there are concerns, and those are: being permanently ON-LINE, and a means to an end. Let’s start with “permanently ON-LINE.” Although this is case dependent, high tech workers are most likely able to work anywhere (ex. from their mobile / laptops). This may lead to a situation where they end up being permanently  “ON-LINE”, slowly undermining their focus and health. Whereas once the goal was efficiency, the very tools that enable one to become “efficient” carries the risk of becoming the source of “inefficiency.” The second concern I have is that high tech work, or more specifically, the tools that enable workers or companies to embrace high tech work can become a “means to an end.” There are individuals and corporations that develop the contents, tools, applications that make high tech work possible, such as google, apple, microsoft and many other individual or small startups developing apps. There are numerous tools, apps which enables us to work more efficiently, but I wonder, “Do we need more?” “Isn’t this enough?” A lot of hardware and especially software these days tend to have too similar characteristics when compared, which leads me to think, “Is your goal just getting the product out there? Or are you really trying to make people’s lives better?” Whichever the answer, it might be time for the high tech industry to take a step back, and take a deep breath.

References

The third industrial revolution http://www.economist.com/node/21553017

This Robot Could Transform Manufacturing http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429248/this-robot-could-transform-manufacturing/

High-tech jobs working conditions: progress toward a brighter future ?

by Anna Dreveau

As high-tech jobs are currently making up to 5.2% of the job market in the United States, their futuristic creative aura has stolen the spotlight from its reality.

Sure, high-tech jobs involve working with the up-to-date technologies, team work, creativity and autonomy. They work in dream-like place (Have you ever seen the Google offices?), with an almost non-existent hierarchical system.

Still, the flip side of those jobs are much less attractive. Pressured by unrealistic deadlines, high- tech workers often have to stay in the office overtime or even overnight; a comfy office, indeed, but you will never get out of here.

Well, actually, you may “get out of here”: an other drawback of those is the job insecurity. Most of high-tech workers are independent contractors; they came to accomplish some specific task. May you be efficient enough, you might be called again; but companies do not guarantee any full-time position nor health care program. This situation sparks fierce competition among peers which ensure intense stress, as everybody have to stay up-to-date in this rapidly progressing field to remain competitive enough.

This “white-collar factory” as Seán Ó Riain nicknamed it, have effects on workers’ social life. Even if family life can be considered as non-existent for those always-working-overtime people, solidarity among peers, despite competition, is strengthening them.

Job insecurity make indeed vertical relationships useless for any workers, who would rather befriend coequals, as they share an identity through their job. Thus, occupational communities bloom, developing mutual assistance and shared information (especially about employment opportunities or latest technologies) between STEM workers. Local communities, as high-tech jobs tend to be found in specific places, are formed and connected to each other, spreading worldwide.

Can we however consider high-tech working trend as progress? If workers still have some sort of social links, all of those resolve around work: friends are current or former colleagues and family can not be the priority as the pressuring competition is taking all the worker’s time. For some, even free time is used for personal projects (as an auto-entrepreneur or an open source contributor). Is making your work the center of your life really a good thing?

Nevertheless, those working conditions are a reality that is extending to other sectors as well. Job insecurity is certainly not STEM sector specificity, as full-time jobs only account for 47% of work nowadays. Besides, even occupational communities can be observed in other professions, such as photocopier repairers, as Julien Orr observed.

Accepting this new reality may be the first step to make things better. Industrial Revolutions did not come as improvement of work conditions at their premise but as unions/bureaucracy were formed, guarantees were granted. Today, as employment security is becoming far off and unions are outperformed by transnational firms, a new system must be implemented to guarantee at least health care, stable income and free time for workers. It may be the turn for occupational communities to grow and voice those demands towards companies all over the world.