Zuboff, S. (1984). In the Age of the Smart Machine,. New York, Basic Books.


Computer based technologies are not socially neutral. Technology both imposes and produces new patterns of information and social relations. The two resulting potential faces of technology is to automate leading to dull jobs with lack of meaning, or infomate, leading to higher participation, more stimulating, challenging jobs, and greater satisfaction. Because the infomating tendencies are not currently recognized, there are often unintended consequences to the addition of new technologies.

 

Chapter 1

Technology functions to amplify and surpass the organic limits of the body. In creating jobs that demand less of the body, industrial production has tended to give jobs that give less to the body" However, information technology can redirect the negative, seemingly deterministic effects of automation.

From ancient times people have generally loathed physical behavior, and have given it low status. Throughout history we have developed ways to control and distance ourselves from the animal life of the human body. Humanization is tempering animality with rationality, aesthetic grace, and moral choice. We see it in the rationality (tacit knowledge) of skilled workers versus the total indifference of laborers.

Taylorism was a purification of effort. The implicit knowledge of workers was gathered and analyzed through observation and measurment, leading to the development of new division of labor and a control mechanism (incentive payment systems, monitoring, standard procedures). With the advent of mass production and the assembly line, there were fewer opportunities for craft work. James Bright and Harry Braverman have pointed out how technology has deskilled workers. Blauner though has shown how technology has opened up work flexibility, and can aid in social integration between worker and management.

 

Chapter Two: Abstraction of Industrial Work

Some skills are inexplicably hard to assimilate into technology. These are often action-centered skills that are sentient, action dependent, context dependent, and personalized. The advent of computerized automation has caused a loss of some of these action-centered skills. An alternative to this is to replace cause-and-effect reasoning with scientific reasoning. The new technology can free up time for more reflection by workers, but it requires training them in intellective skills such as abstraction, explicit inference, and procedural reasoning.

 

Chapter Three: White Collar Body in History

Unlike blue collar work, managers carved out the rationalization in their work and left the craft skills of management intact. The rational, routinized part was pushed downward. Barnard describe executive work as oral and face-to-face. They focus on relationships, strategy building, intuition, non-verbal behavior, interpersonal skills, informational skills, decision making. Their work plans are not explicit to allow flexibility, and they have a preference for live action. In effect, through industrialization and automation executives lost what was WORST with their jobs.

However for clerks, the advent office automation created a role for lower-status, less skilled clerks. This new brand of Taylorism in the office reduced the need for judgement and communication and required more concentration and repetitive activity.

 

Chapter Six

How will information technology change the power relationships? Or will power relationships change the use of technology?

Managerial authority is the legitimization of imperative control. In history it initially arose from land ownership. During the industrial revolution the protestant ethic gave a religious valuation of hard work, and new western philosophies and legends emphasized the self-made man. Education came to define class boundaries, and with Darwin came a belief that those in control must somehow be naturally superior.

Managers became intrinsically different from workers, each with their own psychology and social orientation. By the late 1800's the entrepreneur began to be replaced by the professional manager, and with Taylorism there was an expansion of middle management who derived their authority from domination of information. The great depression damanged and called into question this managerial authority, and the Human Relations School began to point out that cooperation and consensus was a better way to build imperative control. Managers couldn't just appeal the workers rational self-interest.

Today people firmly believe that educational preparation is necessary for managerial work. However, with the advent of information technology and infomating the "prospect of shared access to information threatens the fundamental distinction between managers and the managed".

 

Chapter 7: Dominion of the Smart Machine

Managers often block development of intellective skill in workers because they fear a loss of authority.

 

Conclusion

"To fully grasp the way in which a major new technology can change the world... it is necessary to consider both the manner in which it creates intrinsically new qualities of experience and the wan in which new possibilities are engaged by the often-conflicting demands of social, political, and economic interests in order to product a "choice". Thus technology can be either restricting or unleashing depending on one's choices. It can abstract work and increase it's intellective content, or increase control and remove skill from the job.

THe intedependence of the three dilemmas of transformation I have described -- knowledge, authority, and technique-- indicates the necessary comprehensiveness of an infomating strategy. The shifting grounds of knowledge invite managers to recognize the emergent demands for intellective skills and develop a learning environment in which such skills can develop. That very recognition contains a threat to managerial authority, which depends in part upon control over the organization's knowledge base.

The interdependence among these dillemas means that technology alone, no matter how well designed or implemented, cannot be relied upon to carry the full weight of an infomating strategy. Managers must have an awareness of the choices they face, a desire to exploit the informating capacity of the new technology, and a committement to fundamental change in the landscape of authority if a comprehensive infomating strategy is to succeed. Without this strategic commitment, the hierarchy will use technology to reproduce itself.