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Total Efficient Harm

Nick Englehart

Posted on March 10, 2020 19:21

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Where do we see technology in our work? Is it possible that too much utilization can strip us of our humanity?

How many vacation days do you get per year? How many days do you work? How many hours? The answers to these questions are often out of our control.

Each Job dictates its nature of work. Its difficulty, its urgency, what types of tasks you're completing. No matter what you do it's likely getting more complicated. Between intelligent computer programs, innovations in communication, and efficient machinery it seems like we should be able to work less for more. After all, our factories continuously create more for less so where are those benefits going and how do they affect the workforce?

The nature of work constantly changes. Over the past three hundred years, economic practices have gone from individual labor to massive technological producers who create millions of products per hour. With advances in technology, there are advances to efficiency. The problem is that it's not always clear who benefits.

When the Power Loom shoved the world into the Industrial Revolution the average person's life did not improve. The common myth of the Industrial Revolution is that everyone worked fewer hours, and that they received more economic benefits from the work they did. According to Boston College's Sociology professor Juliet Schor, "Before capitalism, most people did not work very long hours at all. The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed. Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure. When capitalism raised their incomes, it also took away their time."

And as the nature of work has progressed we have continuously asked more of our workers and along with that plea, begrudgingly given them back some rights. Henry Ford is famous for popularizing the assembly line, raising wages, and instituting the forty-hour workweek. He did so at a time when it was common for people to work eighty hours a week. Ford did not do so however out of benevolence, it was instead due to no one being able to put up with the grueling monotony of assembly work.

Somehow with a new focus on increasing efficiency, work has again become unusually grueling. An analysis of Documents from 23 Amazon warehouses showed that 10% of full-time workers sustained serious injuries in 2018 which is twice the national average. This comes on the heels of software attempting to make workers more efficient, measuring their activity down to the second. At one online tech company, software monitors workers via webcam docking their pay in 10-minute increments if they are deemed unproductive. Amazon and Walmart are currently testing harnesses to monitor their warehouse staff.

We can choose to use innovations in technology to better our lives or we can choose to use them to benefit company efficiency. Work is organized around our sociological construction of what makes one a functioning member of society. We get to choose how this technology shapes our future, whether it creates more freedom and leisure, or causes us to sacrifice humanity for efficiency.

Nick Englehart

Posted on March 10, 2020 19:21

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Source: Bizjournals

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