Community, technology, & work


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Sam M says:

    “bus drivers and factor workers, are facing increasingly punitive monitoring to make sure they don’t check in with family and friends during the day.”

    Maybe because it’s a bad idea to be texting while you are driving a bus or running a blast furnace? Such a bad idea that if you screw up while making kissy-face with pooh-bear, someone is going to die? Wait, no. That can’t be it. It has to be because everyone’s human rights are being violated.

    She mentions down time. Is there wide-spread evidence that people are not allowed to text or use a cell phone while they are on lunch break? I do know that I have been on many, many city buses being driven by people who are engrossed in a Blackberry or cell phone. And I have worked blue-collar jobs where cell phones have been banned from certain individuals because they simply would not, under any circumstances, stop taking calls while working. I worked with one guy who openly made vast vicoden deals while swinging a sledge hammer.

    Human rights violations. Sheesh.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Sam M says:

      My workplace now prohibits hourly-wage employees from even possessing a cellphone while on the premises. There are no safety issues or widespread phone abuse that would justify a blanket ban. And, tellingly, the rule does not extent to salaried employees.

      While I wouldn’t use the words “Human Rights Abuse” (and nor does Broadbent in her video), I think it demonstrates a profound lack of respect by my employer for its employees.

      And given that my cellphone primarily functioned as a glorified pocket watch, I’d say my time management, and thus my overall work performance, has actually become worse.Report

  2. The flip side of this is that technology is also going to eventually make it so that people spend the bulk of their time with their families and telecommute to work. I’m already seeing this with some of my bosses and friends. They get to work from home, take breaks for catch with the kids, or lunch with their wives, etc. They can also take a quick trip for a day or two during the week with their kids and just steal away a couple of hours during the day to check email and put out fires before going back to the hotel pool.

    Unfortunately I also agree with Sam that some jobs just don’t mesh with constant communication. We have forklift drivers in parts of our operation that get caught texting. They could kill someone, so discipline is harsh and fast.Report

    • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

      Mike, I think you’ve hit on an interesting point about the different ways in which different professions benefit from these technologies. People, like me, who spend most of the day answering email and editing documents, can do that from almost anywhere. Others, like professional athletes, will still have to show up on the playing field.

      As much as it pains me to know that Peyton Manning won’t be able to rock the crib during half-time, I’m more concerned about finding ways to ensure that blue-collar workers (you know, the people who actually build things) are able to be close to their families. This is why I think that techno-optimism will not be enough. In addition to the newest technology, we will also need old school building patterns that make it possible for many people to return home for lunch, and for those working at home to more easily venture out into the world of shops and offices.Report

      • I think it’s going to be hard to get blue collar workers home for lunch unless you want to lengthen their lunch hour. For me that would be a 90 minute round-trip, not including time to actually eat. Telecommuting via computer terminals would be a more logistically possible option. You could email the wife, or IM for a few minutes, maybe teleconference with your newborn while your spouse is on maternity leave, etc.

        My position in my company is one-step away from being able to work from home. This winter with several big snowstorms we were able to make a stronger case for allow most/all office workers to work from home. Losing a day of productivity (plus vacation time) because you’re stuck at home in a big snow really sucks when you know the only thing your office provides is a networked PC and a comfy chair.Report

  3. Avatar Matthew Schmitz says:

    Excellent post, Erik. Finding ways to collapse much of the distance between home and office is near the center of my own cultural project/concerns. A lot of people may think this an odd preoccupation on a not-so-important subject. Whatever we think of the value of discussing this issue in terms of “rights” (I’ve already expressed my qualms with doing so), it’s worth remembering that this is exactly how that divide has been discussed by decades of feminist literature. To America’s women, the ability to be both in the workplace and near the home — to be able to bear and raise children and participate in the country’s economic life — is nothing less than a right.

    For much of history and in much of the world, the home was the office. People worked in or very near their dwellings, often alongside the members of their own family. Women were not stranded in the suburbs while men went into the city. Family and economic life overlapped. I, too, think it’s worth watching technological developments and figuring out ways to harness it to make sure that work doesn’t take people too far from their families.Report

  4. Avatar Sam M says:

    “I’m more concerned about finding ways to ensure that blue-collar workers (you know, the people who actually build things) are able to be close to their families.”

    Interesting idea. But in my expereince, the blue-collar men I have worked woth view inaccessibility to family as a feature, not a bug, of factory life.

    My dad was an automotive machinist. He ran the shop, so he could talk on the phone whenever he wanted, to whomever he wanted. But we had VERY strict rules. We were never allowed to call him unless it was an emergency. One involving house fires or hospitalization. When we did call, it was clear that he was irked. Work was work. He did not want us calling there unless we had to.

    Similarly, I knew guys who always shut off their cell phones at work, and lied to their families about not having any coverage at the plant. If there was ever an emergency, they knew someone could call the front desk. You don’t want someone calling you with grocery lists if you are running a press line. You just don’t.

    As someone who often works from home now, I can tell you that access to family has its ups and downs. But mostly it’s downs, and if I had a few extra hundred dollars a month laying around, I would rent office space.

    Family is awesome. Really, it is. But there is a reason people leave the house to work.Report

    • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Sam M says:

      True enough, Sam. For almost everyone it will be good, maybe even necessary, to have some separation between the sphere of home and work. But while they should be separated in some way, it’s also good for them to be close by. Ultimately, no one size will fit all, and that’s fine, but my interest is in articulating an ideal that we can hold in mind when constructing our messy reality.Report