The Electronic Sweatshop by Barbara Garson
Introduction & Chapters 1 to 2
In her introduction, Barbara Garson gives the reader an idea of her personal work experience as a clerk with automation. One can see that Garson is a strong critique of automation. In order to convey how automation is affecting our society the author begins by analyzing and studying various jobs from the bottom on up (i.e. starting with the most unskilled labor).
Chapter one examines the various occupations at McDonalds’s. Barbara Garson finds that most workers here tend to dislike their jobs. Due to the tremendous amount of stress created by automated systems such as timers and computer generated productivity statistics McDonald’s has a high turn over rate in employment.
The second chapter of the book deals with reservation agents employed at airlines. Barbara Garson explains how this profession has also undergone automation. By interviewing individuals at American Airlines and Air Canada she finds that conversations with customers are no longer controlled by the reservation agent, but by a set of scripts or even a supervisor secretively listening in on the conversation.
Both of these two chapters analyze the effects of automation on two different types of professions. I found it interesting that individuals working as reservation agents find it easier to cope with automation than McDonald’s employees. I guess this is due to the fact that reservation agents are allowed to practice a little more individual thinking than someone waiting for a buzzer telling him or her when to flip a meat patty.
However, I have worked as a tele-marketer here at the university soliciting funds from alumni and previous students. What attracted me to the job was the relatively high pay (plus commission). Yet, on my first couple days at the job I already was bombarded with several scripts and rules I needed to follow. At first I tried to use my own conversational skills when dealing with customers, but it did not take long until my supervisors started to discipline me about how important it supposedly is to follow the given scripts. Hence, I used these scripts and my 5 hour work day seemed like an eternity. I felt like a wind-up doll and eventually quit the job although I was desperately in need of money.
The reason I am mentioning this is because I believe that in reality there is no difference between the fast food employee and the reservation agent in terms of individuality. Through automation, both professions have lost their personal touch to the public. In my case I tried to solicit funds from individuals using my own ideas and creativity, yet was not allowed to do so. Hence, my job became monotonous.
Quite honestly I do not believe “Kenny” when he states that he likes his work. He argues that he gets to deal with the public. But in order to do so he follows an unoriginal set of scripts and phrases. Thus, does he really get to talk to the public or is he merely a machine or parrot triggered by certain key words such as Yes, No, or Maybe. Furthermore, Kenny was an actor. This profession also requires one to follow scripts, yet what sets one actor apart from another is their individuality. When Kenny plays a role where he has to portray certain emotions he does not follow a given set of rules but his own intuition as an experienced actor.
I find it sad that certain professions have become so monotonous. Through my previous jobs I have realized however that it takes a great deal of job-hopping in order to find the ideal job. An ideal job for me is challenging and requires the use of one’s own individual creativity and thought. I now work for a local graphic design business and enjoy my work environment. My only requirements are that I show up on time and that my final work looks good and does not give the business a bad image.
I hope I am not in the minority believing that individuality and creativity are human skills that should never be overshadowed by large companies that only want to make a profit. Furthermore, what will this society come to if every one acts and thinks like machines? What would happen to free will or even democracy? The word ‘demos’ means people and ‘cracy’ means rule. Hence, will we have a future political system called “autocracy”, where we will be ruled by automated systems designed to anticipate our political and social needs?
Today we still have a chance to be creative individuals if we oppose professions that take these privileges away from us, but will we have that chance 50 years from now or will automation be so integrated in our society that it is too late? I hope not, because if this were to happen I would have wasted a lot of tuition money.
The Electronic Sweatshop by Barbara Garson
Chapters 3 to 8
Chapters three through six mainly portray how professions have become increasingly automated and jobs such as social workers, stockbrokers, and possibly even therapists and psychologists are denounced to clerk positions. Garson explains how computer or file monitoring systems and expert programs are turning white-collar positions into entry-level jobs. Social workers for instance spend less time at personal interaction with a case client and are involved in maintaining a monthly quota of hours worked. Additionally, brokers are using computer programs that allow them less judgment when dealing with a client’s portfolio. Garson also mentions how expert software has the potential of even replacing certain tasks of a job or entire professions.
Chapters six through eight deal with how supervisors use certain software in order to keep track of their employees’ productivity. Ever since secretaries have used computers for their word processing needs, bosses are able to keep track of how many keystrokes have been done or view entire documents while they are being worked on.
Furthermore, this has led to a less personal work relationship between a supervisor and his employees.
After reading these chapters what struck me most was the way Barbara Garson portrayed how professional jobs are becoming more and more automated. It is shocking how jobs such as social workers have evolved to become so routenized. I believe there is a parallel with education in colleges or universities and the job market. As a student I have found that many classes offered at UCD (except for Sociology 159 and other Humanities classes) do not allow for critical thinking.
What I mean here is that most classes rely on material and thinking processes that are not of the student’s origin. For instance science classes require analytical thinking, yet these trains of thought are not original they are merely learned through applied exercise generated by other scholars. Therefore, I feel there is a general lack in critical thinking or trying to look at things different from the norm. I believe being able to think this way is an important privilege and duty of every citizen in a society. The work of Emanuel Kant shows the necessity of critical and independent thought. If we can not think for ourselves someone else will do it for us and might abuse our rights as free citizens.
I am drawing this comparison between work and school because I think there might be a reason why we are not taught critical thinking at universities. Possibly we are already being trained to follow guidelines and regulations prematurely before we enter the professional work force. This way we will adapt to the regulated work environment easier and become “productive” citizens. I am not trying to say that I do not believe in rules or laws, but rules that only benefit profit maximization of corporations and other large companies cannot possibly benefit the interest of the employees and even society as a whole.
Hence I think the reason our society allows automation to continue is the same reason this same society allowed the big tycoons of the Industrial Age abuse and neglect their work force. For one there will always be desperate and unfortunate people looking for employment no matter how bad the work environment, and second we are raised as loyal and faithful citizens that do not question authority.
Barbara Garson’s example of the social worker shows what implication this lack in independent thought might have on society. If the welfare system of the United States is becoming increasingly automated, what implications might this have on society? I think it is quite possible that we will neglect large portions of our population due to calculated errors caused by computer programs. Welfare should not be decided by mathematical calculations or “0”s and “1”s. It should be managed by real people with conversational and people skills. Every individual has unique needs and characteristics, and must therefore be dealt with individually on a personal basis. I do not believe automation is the way to deal with our country’s welfare system.
Furthermore, it upsets me when I read the sexist and racist remarks made by one of Garson’s interviewees. This individual clearly does not belong in the field of social work. Yet, since social work has become so clerical it does not surprise me that these kind of people work there. Hence it is imperative that we do not exempt any trend that is modern as the effective and best way to handle things. We must further question these changes and find other ways to improve social issues.
The Electronic Sweatshop by Barbara Garson
Chapters 9 to 10 & Conclusion
The Overworked American by Juliet B. Schor
Chapters 1 to 2
In chapter nine Barbara Garson discusses how automation has led to a work force that primarily consists of part-time and temporary workers. Since occupations have become more simplified due to automation and breaking down jobs into step by step processes, it is not necessary for companies to rely on a skilled employees anymore. Thus workers have become disposable. This trend can be seen from blue-collar workers at McDonald’s to professors and instructors at universities. The only individuals not effected by this are senior managers who are to blame for these hiring tactics.
In chapter ten Garson examines the highest level of occupations. Decision-making and management is also being automated. The author shows this with examples from the Department of Defense that is using computer programs to calculate war tactics. The military uses automated control centers far away from a crisis area in order to control battlefields around the world.
In her conclusion Barbara Garson argues that she finds it hard for us to undo the process of automation since supervisors and big companies assume that their employees are “lazy, stupid, and hostile”. However, she believes that we must protest and resist “the electronic sweatshop”
In chapter on Juliet Schor portrays how our country has doubled productivity per capita since the 1940’s and we are still continuing to work even more. She believes that we should be compensated for the increase in productivity with more paid time off work. Schor briefly describes several aspects of this increase in work hours such as the fact that we are neglecting our children due to work, or that the increase in consumption has put us in dept.
Chapter two examines the consequences of the increase of working hours. Schor argues that Americans are now working one month per year more than they did fifty years ago. Furthermore, there are more females in the work force and employees are forced to put in over-time at jobs they might be fired from due to declines in market demand. Additionally, due to the increase in hours worked by employees, unemployed have difficulties finding employment.
I found the information Barbara Garson gave us about automated defense systems frightening and chilling. It scares me to know that machines are calculating war tactics. During the Vietnam War the results from the computer were used by actual people in making tactical decisions, however what happens if in the near future automated systems directly influence weaponry on the battlefield. Already today weapons have become extremely high tech, and entire wars seem to have become on big video game. During the Golf War we witnessed how advanced our armed forces are. Most of the fighting seemed to have been done by remote weaponry such as Tomahawk and Patriot missiles. Yet, what if these missals would not be controlled by people pushing buttons but by computers directly? I find this to be a scary thought. For one computers are prone to break down are create errors. Human lives should not be left in the hands (or left up to computer chips) of logistic defense systems. It sort of makes me wonder what a letter to a mother’s fallen son might sound like: “sorry about your loss, but due to a temporary computer breakdown your son walked straight into a mine field.” (These letters might even be processed by the computer itself).
Furthermore, we have seen that supervisors see employees as a hindrance in their pursuit of profit. People supposedly only get in the way of business since they can think. What might happen if this logistic computer calculates that friendly manned weaponry is a hindrance in winning a war? It might start to attack its own side. The consequences I could dream up are frightening.
Moreover, does a computer understand the value of life? Does it know what consequences the death of a soldier on either side of the war might have? Does it have compassion? Can it distinguish between enemy forces and civilian population? Hence, when it comes to war I strongly offend computer control. There are just to many aspects that could lead to disaster.
Armed forces around the world posses nuclear weapon in their arsenals that could literally wipe out mankind and all life on the planet several times. Hence, how could we rest a sure that a computer can handle such a responsibility. A computer might even calculate that a thermo-nuclear warm would not destroy it and thus see nuclear war as the only alternative in a conflict.
The scientists that were involved in creating nuclear bombs during WW II later realized what they had done and regretted ever creating such weapons. Even Albert Einstein himself once said he should have never made his findings public. He even added that mankind is not intellectual enough to handle nuclear energy. I feel this same idea applies to today’s researcher. I wonder if they ever thought about what consequences their technologies might have on society. But they are probably so preoccupied in technological advancement and profit making they do not realize them or just ignore them.
It upsets me to know that research is directed towards technology that can cause harm to society. If our society is so technologically capable why do we not invent devices that improve social problems? There is not a cure for AIDS or cancer, and most of the world is still malnourished. We need to stop letting political leaders and CEOs of corporations run our lives. We must voice our thoughts and opinions before it is too late. Perhaps in the future computers will control even our ideas and feelings, and we will truly be nothing more than a pair of legs and hands. This might sound ridiculous now, but considering how far warfare has come since the middle ages it is not too far-fetched. However, who knows if mankind will still exist in 500 years; we might have destroyed each other by then due to our greed and violent behavior.
The Overworked American by Juliet B. Schor
Chapters 3 to 5
In chapter three Juliet Schor compares today’s working hours the Middle Ages or the time before the Industrial revolution. She argues that back then there was less leisure time and the work environment was less stressful compared to today. Additionally, she agues that capitalists try to spread a myth that the 40-hour workweek is the least employees have ever worked in history.
Chapter four deals with the work that needs to be completed at home on top of the increasing hours worked at jobs. Schor argues that females carry the highest burden of housework. Today females are working the same hours as their male counterparts and still have to take care of children and cook meals. The author sees the possibility that children do not get the attention at home they need.
Chapter five deals with the high level of consumption predominant in society today. Since we make more than we did 50 years ago and our economy’s productivity has doubled we are inclined to spend more. This has led to widespread debt among the middle class. Schor classifies the average American as “homo economicus”. She calls this phenomenon a cycle of work and spend. We make a lot of money yet spend it all on consumer products thus raising productivity.
It seems as though we are so caught up in our hectic lifestyles that we simply do not have time to seriously evaluate economic and political situations. As a student with a life full of responsibilities and deadlines, it seems as though I just cannot find the time to seriously help oppose our economic “situation”. However, as an individual in a democratic society it should be one of my main priorities to critically evaluate our government’s agenda. I believe corporations are largely to blame for creating this fast-paced society. Corporations have even made it easier for us to cope with this accelerated lifestyle by providing franchises that serve unhealthy “fast” food. We are like puppets on a string guided by the corporate world. Even a single mother earning minimum wage in an assembly line does not question this societal system since she is more preoccupied working twelve hours a day in order to support her family.
Sometimes I wonder what happened with our ability to think critically. I thought this was the role of universities. Our country was based on free thought and wisdom inspired by revolutionary individuals such as Kant, Rousseau, and Foucult. The famous quote “I think, therefore I am” definitely does not coincide with today’s popular ideas. Instead universities seem to be overrun by corporate influences. College students are a favorite target for credit card companies. Students do not seem to realize that this is just another way that corporations make you dependent on them. Corporations such as Microsoft and IBM invest large sums of money in colleges and universities in order to ensure that their next generation of employees can maximize
their profits. At the same time there are people in this country that are so poor they
are forced to leave their homes and live in the streets. All this economic injustice is evident, and one must ask why we as citizens do not oppose it. The simple explanation is that we are both a partner and a victim of the corporate world.
When I here that our unemployment rate is above normal since our real GDP is above potential GDP, I know that the normal rate of unemployment is 6 percent. Yet, the average citizen is tricked in believing our economy is fine. One must realize that for every 100 people in the work force 6 people are unemployed when we are at economic equilibrium. This means that while economists tell the president everything is fine there are 6 out of 100 families struggling to feed their children. If you transfer this figure to the overall population this means approximately 15 million people are without jobs; that’s a lot of people out on the streets during so called economic stable times.
Furthermore, economists, politicians, CEO, and other elites constantly gloat that the U.S. has the richest economy or the highest GDP in the world. Yet, are we not forgetting that there is such a tremendous gap between rich and poor in this country, and thus a large number of our citizens are forced to live under near Third World like conditions?
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