Workers, Time and Technology: the case studies in Alone Together, Ch. 8

Reading Chapter Eight of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Togther, I was drawn to the stories and behaviors of the individuals that appear here as case studies, though perhaps not for the reasons Turkle intended (if I were to assume her intentions, that is, always a dangerous game when encountering a text for the first time). There is Diane, the museum curator who tells us that her “whole life is [her] job” (165) and Trey, the Boston lawyer, who explains that text messaging and emails have “put [him] on a speed-up, on a treadmill, but that isn’t the same as being productive” (167).

Trey is right, in some ways, but I wonder if he – and Turkle – miss the point. Yes, people managed to be productive at their jobs for years without this type of technology. But we should inquire as to why we are so attached to technology today. Why is it a permanent part of some people’s lives, particularly those with high-power, white-collar jobs? Work gets done faster, which, in the business world, is virtually synonymous with higher productivity. While Turkle focuses on the changing behaviors of people in relation to the technology, I think there is a much larger problem which she does not even touch upon – workers today are required to use this technology. Diane admits as much when she tells us that her job mandates she have both a Twitter feed and a Facebook account, both of which she must keep updated. While I fully agree that a job requires one keep up with the changing times, it is important to note that today, businesses may still pay workers for their standard nine to five, but they get to keep employees on call all hours of the day. At a time when unions are meeting ever more resistance, we should be alarmed – no, more than that, we should be horrified – that increasingly less of our day belongs to us.

In the early nineties, Neil Postman wrote about what he termed Technopoly, a society ruled by technology. However, what Postman emphasized was that it wasn’t technology itself that affected us but the hands that wielded it, the larger hands of business and corporation and government, all of which used technology as a tool for social control. Over time, he pointed out, we forget that hands are pulling the strings – something even the hands themselves forget – and we become slaves not only to bureaucracy but to the technology that keeps bureaucracies running. Yes, I am oversimplifying Postman’s arguments, but what he ultimately claims in Technopoly is that there is nothing left to the American identity but its economy. It is especially intriguing that he noted this nearly 25 years ago, when the general public’s understanding of technology was likely very different from what it is today.

This is especially interesting where it affects the roles of women in both the workforce and American society. Once women joined the workforce, they were expected to both work and continue their roles of caretaking and childrearing. Add to that the prohibitive American economy, particularly in urban epicenters, and many women no longer even have the option to stay at home, regardless of whether or not they want to do so. As individuals in an increasingly corporatized US, more and more is expected of both women and women. Eventually, I wonder if we won’t all begin to question how much of our life is actually ours.

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