Sunday, December 12, 2004

No Collar

I'm ill. I haven't finished reading. I feel like rolling over to die.

1. Does it seem to anyone else that the corporate culture of such organizations is to give employees what they think they want in order to elicit more productivity and thus more profit?

2. For all the talk about sellouts by the fish, aren't they, in their own way, elitists? And, as noted by Ms. Snyder, they seem oblivious to the power hierarchies under which they are employed. How can they both rail against the traditional models without knowing exactly how those models are structured? Does this ignorance/naivete leave them susceptible to corporate structure changes that would/will move them closer to older models?

3. The cult metaphors seem strong, but there is this similarity in the sense that work becomes one's life. Fellow employees are "family" and the head of the family, the corporation itself, is entity worth sacrificing oneself for. Do the images and the rhetoric these workplaces exude "trick" people into thinking that they aren't part of the machine while sacrificing their lives to it? How is this any different to the cold war business environment in which loyalty to the company was the thing?

I will try to be in class tomorrow, but right now I feel wretched.


Ross questions

1. How does HR fit into the No-collar workplace? Management appears to play the role of HR staff. At Razorfish, management appeared to be the HR-like motivational force, a seperation in a workplace without much hierarchy. Although this worked better when the company was doing well, it became another cause for restructuring, during hard times. Also causing these individuls extra emotional wear.

2. I thought it was interesting when Ross contrasted a few individual throughout the book who were successfully doing freelance work during a time when the rest of the industry was struggling. Does this suggest anything about the structuring of the no-collar workplace, the financialization of the dot-com industry or perhaps a desire to belong to a group doing poorly rather than risking self-employment? Ross does not offer any examples of individuals failing at this, so it is unclear if he is intentionally juxtaposition these two possiblities.

3. At Razorfish and 360hiphop, workers were very concerned about both who their clients were and also not wanting to "sell out" to the bigger corporate businesses or clients. Is this attitude distinctive to the no-collar workplace? In the end, Razorfish was forced to start catering to those bigger clients in order to survive and 360hiphop was bought out by a huge media conglamerate. Could this aforementioned attitude have been part of their failures or were the shortcomings merely a product of the dot-com crash?

Ross questions

I was happy to see that Ross intended "no collar" ironically rather than as a description of an ideal historical state or status, like "post-industrial" or "creative class."

1. On p. 252, Ross describes the "needy" organization, where no-collar workers suddenly found themselves as managers reasserted control during hard times, as an experience of managerial power in the absence of authority. What are some of the sources of authority in organizations, as opposed to power? What are legitimate sources of authority, if any? What kind of power is more hazardous to one's health, filtered or unfiltered?

2. After a series of massive layoffs, Razorfish managers were telling their employees that the 1/6th who remained represented the network of "Competents"; similarly, a manager claimed that he kept on some of the trouble-makers because they provided "useful energy" to the organization. How convincing are these statements in terms of the evidence?

3. The big question left at the end of the book is whether or not the vision of a "creative class" or "no-collar" workforce or class of knowledge workers is sustainable for the foreseeable future in the United States. Is it? How are knowledge workers going to negotiate with the new managerial regime? Is workplace reform likely to continue in this country at some point in the near future, or do we have to look to Finland or someplace else for models?

no collar questions

I don't know much about the stock market, so when I want to make reference to it, I'm just going to refer to 'Wall Street.' It's more faceless than I'd like, but I don't quite know where specifically to point fingers.

1. During the panel discussion "The Future of Silicon Alley," Michael Wolff makes the comment that Internet industry should never have been treated as a separate industry. If Wall Street is largely to blame for what happened to the dot com industry, this leads me to two questions:

a. If the dot coms had stayed smaller, more organic, and more attuned to the "Golden Age" ideals of the mid-90s, would they have fared better? To what extent did they have the choice to leave the market out of their kind of work, or was going public just inevitable?

b. How culpable and/or malevolent was Wall Street in the over-financialization of the New Economy? Were they just honestly trying to find a way to attach a value to companies that didn't produce goods and services in a way people found familiar? Or was it an excuse to restructure the economy to reward corporations and destabilize the labor force?

2. We discussed this some with the Florida book, but I'd like to talk more about the environmental impact of a Silicon Alley or any other concentration of information workers in cities. Ross mentions the working class populations and information sector support staff being driven out of formerly affordable communities in San Francisco and San Jose. Teachers in Silicon Valley live in subsidized housing (and they're supposed to be 'professionals!'). There's a tension between these information professionals as both unwitting victims and unintentional victimizers. What do we think about all of this?

3. Ross seems to leave us with the idea that maybe hating your job just a little bit is better for you in the long run. In what ways was Razorfish a humane workplace and in what ways was it ultimately not? This sounds like an obvious question, but I'm curious to see if there are differences of opinion in the class about management styles, organizational structure, work environment, company culture, etc. - where are we all coming from when we talk about a 'humane' workplace?

Questions, No-Collar

  1. I'm having trouble formulating this question coherently, but here goes: It seems to me that one of the holdovers from the Industrial Age is the notion that "the job" is one-size-fits-all for both business and the individual laborer. A lot of our readings this semester challenge that assumption from both directions; businesses can't afford or don't want to provide "jobs" to everyone whose labor they need (Temps, Granny, the unionism articles), and people don't always want the "jobs" that business can provide (Creative Class).

    The no-collar workplaces, for all their apparent job-structure and atmosphere innovations, strike me as falling into exactly the same trap; their world was just as narrowly-conceived and ill-tailored, just in completely different ways.

    So how do we conceive of a humanized workplace that acknowledges that different businesses and different people have different labor needs, without falling into exploitative labor relationships?

  2. Do we know what happened to the ex-dot-commers generally? Ross tries to provide an answer for his limited sample of people, but I'd be interested to hear a wider survey of what these people are doing and what they think of the dot-com experience now that it's behind them.

  3. Related to the previous question: A lot of our readings assume without question that the workplace will be and should be organized (physically as well as structurally) around the needs of whatever segment of the labor force is currently "hot." In No-Collar, this means the chaotic, noisy, all-with-all (as opposed to all-against-all) Razorfish floor. When do we get to a more inclusive vision of labor practices, such that all work and all workers have attention paid to their varying needs? (Because, I gotta say, an atmosphere like Razorfish's would drive me bats in extremely short order.)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Questions, three articles

  1. Is Kraut and Cummings's definition of computer "domestication" (as "that which is not work") defensible? Training a gender lens on it seems to produce the old, old canard that only paid work is work, and household labor is not work. (I was particularly dubious about "finance" being a "personal, leisure, non-work" use of the Internet, p. 224. I don't get paid for maintaining my household's investments, no, but it sure ain't leisure in my book.) I am tempted to wonder if the more "labor"-ish uses of the Internet were actually the wedge driving its use in the home. And how does the increasing contingent workforce (especially contractors and micro-businesses) play into this? Are they counted as "workers"?

    On the other hand, I can certainly accept their guess that increasing demographic heterogeneity in Internet use reflects the greater diversity of American homes as compared to the American workplace.

  2. Is Mark Porter's contention that software development invented "entirely new patterns and cultures of work" (p. 342 et seq.) anything more than wild ahistorical romanticism? This guy's never programmed for a living, has he?

  3. Postigo's account of the AOL situation seems to imply that community effort is incompatible with paid labor (or at least with management thereof). Is that true in all cases, or was AOL just particularly hamfisted in handling its volunteer labor force?

questions, 11/29

1. Kraut and Cumming's article discusses the social trends of Internet usage up until 2000. Since then, we have even more modes available for online communication, for example, blogging and skype (internet telephony). Does this suggest a continuing increase in social use or a response to meet user needs or both? What about paying bills online, would you consider this a social use or a cross over and are there other examples of the two blending together?

2. Volunteer is defined by both freely entering a transaction and not being compensated for it. It seems from Postigo's article that both parties had other informal expectations. For example, the volunteers wanted to gain experience, more access and possibly more recognition while and AOL needed more control. Is the definition of volunteer evolving and what do you think are reasonable expectations for both parties? In some ways the arrangement almost sounded more like internship, where experience was the primary reason for working without pay, there was still some compensation from fringe benefits and the possibility of working for AOL in the future.

3. That said, why aren't other corporations exploiting this type of volunteer arrangement? Was the eagerness surrounding the volunteers for AOL unique to this time and place in the technology boom (or whatever we should call this time period)?

29 November

1. On Postigo, I had a question of just what content the volunteers created when they had access to the in-house text editor/publisher? It had to be pretty thrilling to yield as much volunteer buy-in as it did. When AOL changed its pricing to attract users in the mass rather than well-heeled enthusiasts, what had changed in its business model? (A history of which I am ignorant.) Are there alternatives to the models of Internet users Postigo presents, to wit, enthusiastic volunteers, unpaid web proletarians, or company-designated community leaders?

2. I am not familiar with the standard use of statistics to interpret social trends, so will appreciate some clarification of how Cummings and Kraut are saying what they are saying. How does their prediction of the disappearance of surface mail square with what Poster says about the penetrability of e-mail? If there is an upper limit on the computer security that novices will invest in, isn't there also an upper limit on their trust of e-mail and online chat? What about the content issue? Isn't there more reliable, general purpose information available now and in the last five years than there was in 1994-5?

3. It seems as if the best way to read Poster is in conjunction with Lucore's article. Poster seems to have gotten to the store a little late. What concrete evidence, or proposal for action, does Poster present to indicate real hope for workers to use the Internet to "throw off their chains" etc. For some reason I'm thinking of Kramer's reversal of the peephole in the door of his apartment.

11/29 discussion questions

1. I was interested in the question Cummings and Kraut asked regarding whether the Internet has become "domesticated" because of a change in the user base or because of a change in the online environment. While they are able to show to some degree that the demographics of Internet users increasingly reflect U.S. demographics, they were unsuccessful in showing a change in the environment with their data. Does their suggestion of using adaptive structuration theory address this question or something else?

2. In many ways, the technocentric tone of the Poster article makes it sound like something that would have been published in the mid to late 90s, when everybody was supposed to be working from home, provided of course that work as we knew it didn't end outright. Is there a more sober way of discussing the impact that networked computing has on the nature of work? I'm not convinced by the "posthuman" argument, especially given the discussion we had last week (how easily and quickly the technology disappears when we really start talking about the labor).

3. Does Postigo's example of the changes in community-building activities at AOL ("community as commodity") take a step towards understanding changes in the online environment and online culture, or is the corporatization of the Internet only part of the big picture?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Not me

Just to get my beef out of the way, I think there's more hand-wringing and hand holding than militancy in this book. As a worker sliding into the age "cohort" in question, I don't feel empowered by this text.

1. The cover and title set up certain expectations for the content that are not fulfilled; what if any relevance does a New Deal image have for Riggs's message? Is the woman on the cover over 55? Is she a granny? How does skilled machinist work compare to the amorphous tech work of today?

2. In ch. 7 Riggs discusses the images of seniors/elders in advertising, and observes that products marketed to affluent retirees are not making it with seniors in general. Are advertisers really trying to sell to an age group, or are they trying to sell to people who have money to spend?

3. PP. 181-182: isn't there a distinction to be made between Riggs's matures (pre-boomers) and Tom Brokaw's "greatest generation" (born before the 1929 crash, like my parents)? What are the differences in the ethos of those old enough to have been born in prosperity but to have experienced the Depression (before 1937-8) and late Depression/WWII children? Note that 1944-1954 was on balance a reactionary period in American history.

4. One more: where is the work in Granny@work?


Sunday, November 21, 2004

granny questions

1. What are the limitations, if any, to Riggs use of technology (such as monitoring web discussions and interviews over email) in her research?
2. As the next generation ages, will the preference for technology skills over experience, that Riggs seems to suggest, disappear?
3. Is it significant that Riggs choose Harley Davidson, a self-described high road company and a male “mystique” to look at how aging and technology affects women’s work?

Electronic Arts

Jumping the gun a bit, but this New York Times article is a good introduction to the kind of thing we'll see in No-Collar.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Questions, Granny @ Work

  1. Both Riggs and her informants emphasize heavily personal factors that create difficulty in the labor market—training, workplace changes outstripping competencies, outlook, etc. Even "ageism," when cited, is assumed to be a personal onus on the part of young managers. How can we inject structural factors (the cost of pensions and health care being two obvious ones) into this discourse?

  2. Was there a point to the movie chapter other than "Hollywood stereotypes old people"? (Yeah, them and everybody else besides.) I seem not to have gotten it, if there's a point there to get.

  3. A lot of the attitudes toward job-searching and workplaces that Riggs recounts don't seem to me to be specific to elders; I know plenty of people who externalize job difficulties and shove technical work off on others, for instance. How many of Riggs's findings are really specific to the aging population, as opposed to the job market as a whole?

And a bonus question, because my second one was pretty lame: How many of Riggs's findings are due to generational cohort effects rather than effects of aging per se? Do we expect the X and Y Generations to age the same way the Boomers are doing?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

granny @ work questions

1. Although Riggs mentions the digital divide and the importance of continued training for older workers, I never quite got a handle on what kind of baseline she was using to define technology competency - sometimes it seemed as simple as the ability to use the Internet, sometimes it seemed to require a more complex set of skills. What defines technology competency, skill, or a closing of the digital divide?

2. Something I hear fairly often from people in graduate programs (either leading to jobs in academia or librarianship) are optimistic opinions about the future of the job market, since many Matures and Boomers will be retiring in the next five to ten years. According to Riggs' research, it sounds like this is a myth. Additionally, because of downsizing and budget cuts, some vacant positions are either not being filled or are being restructured to involve reduced hours and benefits. What are some ways that organizations in general, and universities and libraries in particular, can balance the interests of older workers who have invested loyalty, time, and creativity with an organization and younger workers, who want to get their foot in the door and begin their careers? Is there enough work to go around?

3. Through the reflections of older individuals who have enrolled in continuing education technology programs and classes, Riggs shows the benefits of this kind of learning. What are the limitations? What is the optimal setting and curriculum for information literacy and technology training?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Questioning Unity

1. Where might Benner and Lucore place teachers' unions in all of this? Drawing from Dorothea's comments, I wonder if this field is too feminized to merit consideration.

2. I suspect that we could all curse Wal-Mart and like entities all day. My question is, at what growth point does a company become a target for unionization? Is it always necessary? Do employers have a right to control the work conditions within their own company (and set wages, etc.)?

3. In his brief list of professional associations, Benner left out the ALA (est. at the same time as the AMA). How do librarians fit into this idea of professional associations and guilds? Is the association path the best one? Might a guild be more useful? What does your association do for you?!?


1. Could unions and/or guilds be more effective organizing around changing federal legislation rather than organizing workers?

2. When Brenner discusses guilds and union history, in relation to the technology sector, he seems to imply that individuals are becoming increasingly responsible for self-promotion and justification of their importance in the workplace. Is this unique to the technology sector and why?

3. How can the rights of low-waged workers be established when consumers are unwilling to sacrifice individual access to low priced products, even when it means supporting corporations like Wal-Mart, also the largest private employer in America?

for 15 November

1. Benner talks about the history of professional associations and how "high-status" professions like medicine have been able to organize to maintain status by limiting "the supply of skills and knowledge." Evelyn Geller has identified librarianship as a "semi-profession," while Benner recognizes IT workers as semi-professional in that their expertise gives them an advantage in the labor market but not quite the skills monopoly enjoyed by physicians. Do librarians have a skills or knowledge advantage in the labor market, and if so, how can they translate that into greater employability, and by extension, more control in the workplace?

2. What do we know or think we know collectively about the history of the Teamsters' Union, and how does that play into a reading of Lucore's article? (The changing image of the Teamsters is key to Geoghegan's (corrected spelling) book "Which side are you on?" which I will try to bring to class.) Does that history and/or image deter workers hovering on the margins of professionalism from even thinking of forming or joining unions?

3. a. Tax "reform" strategist Grover Norquist recently said that the New Deal alliance of Washington bureaucrats and "union bosses" will never again be in charge, after the Bush reelection. Combine that perception of the nature of "Big Labor" power with the missionary zeal of the Wal-Mart anti-union crusade, which seems to be tinged with more fervor than mere loyalty to the fortunes of the Walton family: how did Labor, which has at its core a class-based agenda for social justice, even in the old anti-socialist AFL, get labelled as the number one enemy, even though all workers including management have benefitted from reforms it has advocated?

b. Do pre-capitalist attitudes about work condition our collective perception of class in the US? Consider the concept of "economic rights" as opposed to that of the "ownership society."

Saturday, November 13, 2004


1. From the Silicon Valley guilds Benson writes about to the "open-source unionism" advocated by Joel Rogers, there's a sense of the union becoming less of an agent for change and more of a career training center/social group/symbol. Yet there seems to be some optimism and enthusiasm about this as the future face of unionism. Is it false hope? If you don't have collective bargaining, what do you have that makes a real difference in the lives of workers?

2. Let's say we had us a genuine, organized, fully funded collaborative effort involving all American unions to unionize Wal-Mart. How could this movement work with international Wal-Mart unions to improve its chances for success? In general, how can union organizing become more global in nature, and what kinds of results might we expect?

3. The idea that technology and information workers aren't usually a good fit for unionization efforts has come up a number of times this semester in the readings. Whether because of tenuous professional status of the workers, or the instability of the labor market in this field, or because workers are employing "exit strategy" rather than "voice strategy," the traditional union model doesn't work as well in this field. What will unions need to do to fit this labor force? Do these workers even have any desire to unionize?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Rural Outsourcing

The solution to offshore outsourcing? Help for rural economies wanting to enter the Creative Class? Who knows?

Questions, unionism articles

  1. I was intrigued by the extent to which Featherstone and Benner were willing to admit that unions have made their own bed. (Lucore, conversely, was all like, "Of course unions use IT! We're not backward! Really! [But those darn members, when they get together and talk, that's bad, you know...]") Are unions listening to this criticism? How are they changing because of it?

  2. From my undereducated perspective, it seems to me that unions clung to largely-male preserves as much as they possibly could, bypassing any employment territory that might contain (gasp!) women. To what extent is women's greater participation in the labor market relative to men a source of unions' membership attrition?

  3. Following Benner's analysis, what other new services could unions provide that would help their members and reduce membership attrition? (Dare one suggest HEALTH INSURANCE?)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I don't think this is the mobility Florida has in mind...

$17 an Hour Technology's Nomads

Slowdown Forces Many to Wander for Work
IT Unemployment Now Exceeds Overall Jobless Rate

By Greg SchneiderWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, November 9, 2004; Page A01

YORK, Pa. -- David Packman knocks on the motel room door and his wife lets him in. His 9-year-old son is waiting with sneakers on, hoping for a trip outside after a day of sitting around. Packman's other son, 4, dances gleefully around the room. Dad's home from work.
This is no holiday getaway; this motel room, for the moment, is where the family lives. Packman, 34, is one month into a four-month contract fixing computers at a local company, and one day closer to the end of the line. It's Monday, and the $50 in Packman's pocket will have to cover food, laundry and incidentals for the coming week.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Meeting of minds re Florida, 3rd try

Appreciating the previous blogs and anticipating Florida's conclusion from halfway through:

1. Florida implies that the creative class can move freely from job to job in defiance of universally incompetent management in search of greater autonomy. How do they make a living, pay for their health care, save, guarantee their retirement? Is he totally goofed, or does he not recognize that to enjoy this much autonomy requires a sizeable support community? Who might that include, besides his ever helpful service workers, Porsche-driving hair-dressers, et al.? How does educational background factor into shaping the creative class as Florida defines it, and how will the increasing exclusion of low-income people from college education shape this class in the future?

2. Noting that Florida's tables show that members of the greater Creative Class make more money on average than the Super-creative core, what happened to the Sciences/Humanities split that everybody was talking about in the late 1980s? Do Scientists/Techs and Humanists suddenly have common economic interests? And if so, why are the financial rewards of the two paths so disparate?

3. Getting at Florida from two different angles: would any of us choose to have a cappuccino with Florida? Is he an agent-provocateur for cultural conservatives? (Consider all the players in a regulated capitalist economy who are missing from his world.)

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Questions for a Creative Class

Did anyone else have trouble with Blogger earlier today? Maybe I'm just not creative enough - just one more idiot drone laboring in the university sweatshop.

And by the way, I certainly hope that pox Dorothea is casting about isn't too contagious!

1. I really really was planning to 'play nice'; then I read this: "Employing millions of people merely to do rote work is a monstrous waste of human capabilities. Someday it may be seen to be as retrograde, both ethically and economically, as compelling humans to pick cotton on a plantation" (321). How do we feel about Prof. Florida's assertion that (paid) rote work is analagous to slavery?

2. Florida assumes that workers have mobility, that they are able to move to the region or city of their choice. Is this a valid assumption? How does this effect his analysis of cities' creative environments? Are certain workers (within the 'creative' groups) more mobile than others?

3. Towards the end of the book, in the small section "beyond nerdistan" on page 284, Florida quotes someone who quotes someone saying "Ask anyone where a downtown is and nobody can tell you. There's not much of a sense of place here...." Is this a problem of not drawing creative class people? Or is it just bad city planning?

4. In what ways does or doesn't Florida understand social services/welfare's role in society?

Did anyone else feel like they were reading a Tony Robbins publication?

I LOVE the idea of the 'whitey index'!!

creative class

1. "Creativity," as Florida uses the term in his book, seems like an elusive label to me. While the trends that Florida bases his arguments on seem to be valid, it is unclear whether they are captured with or how they relate to the concept of creativity. In what ways is creativity linked to job growth as opposed to other factors like the urban/rural divide?

2. Although Florida briefly touches on housework and childcare (he even gives kudos to his maid!), he does not adequetely address how this type of invisible work fits into his hierarchy of the creative class. Does low paid childcare or unpaid housework have a place in his arguement?

3. On a note similar to Mary's question about privelige. Florida bases much of his arguement on statistics showing creative class workers are more concerned with job stimulation then with pay or benefits. With health care cost on the rise, pay and benefits are of growing concern for both lower and middle class workers. Is this a large hole in his arguement or is it not even necessary to address this discrepancy?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Questions, Creative Class

(Well, that took long enough. I've been waiting for Blogger all day.)

  1. Is it just me, or has Florida got serious problems picking definitions for "creative" and "class" and sticking to them? For the former term, he dances around with impressionistic ideas about what creative people do and how they do it, and I can't see anywhere he solidly establishes how to tell a creative-class worker from a non-creative-classer. (What about me, for instance? I have a Creative Classer's education, but I just spent two and a half years doing data entry and database code-monkeying. Real creative. Not. And, I need not say, not highly-paid.) At one point he even says that any job can be a Creative Class job—in which case what's the use of the distinction?

    As for "class," Florida insists that it depends entirely on the work people do (on which, see above), but when he actually talks about the Creative Classers, it seems to me they have much less in common laborally (if that's a word) than culturally.

  2. How is the Creative Class gendered? Mary established pretty neatly that it's racially weighted. Surely the gendering of work perceived as "desirable" that we've talked about previously in relation to temps and computer workers has some relevance here. Surely, also, mothers and girlfriends and wives as well as the Service Class are taking up a lot of the housework and childrearing slack to give their Creative Class men room for their jobs and their oh-so-wonderful "experiences."

  3. What do the results of Tuesday's election say about the political viability of the Creative and non-Creative classes?

And a rant: This book irritated me even worse this time than the last time I read it. Suddenly I have sympathy with Daniel Bell's attitude as retailed by Florida. Florida's Creative Classers, despite his lip service to "diversity," are the Slashdot demographic writ large: self-absorbed white boys, zero sense of social responsibility (if they don't like a place, they can always just leave it!), interested in "diversity" only insofar as it amuses or coddles them and they don't have to engage seriously with it. Bah. A pox pox POX on them.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

creative class questions

Richard Florida did not include a "Whitey" Index, so I have taken the liberty of doing so for him (although I wouldn't make any claims of statistical significance for it). Being a library geek and a census junkie, I went to the 2000 census and looked up some race/ethnicity statistics for about 20 of the cities at the top and the bottom. Now, about 75% of Americans reporting in the census are white, while 12.3% are African-American. Of the 9 cities that I looked at, ranking highest in the Creativity Index, 8 of them had a population that was less than 10% African-American, and 6 were over 70% white. Of the 12 cities ranking lowest in the Creativity Index, 10 of them had a population that was over 33% African-American, and 3 were over 50% African-American.

There were definitely some outliers - Atlanta, for example. I'd be curious to know about the role of Atlanta's large African-American population in the creative class there.

On that note:

1. Could we talk about the undercurrent of white upper middle class privilege in the idea of the creative class? How does this relate to the digital divide and the information have's and have-not's? How could this be changed? Also, Greg, could you suggest some good readings on race and ethnicity and information labor?

2. I was surprised to see in the Appendix that Florida considers librarians to be part of, not only the creative class, but of the "super-creative core." Throughout the book, I really thought that librarians fit more into the service class, according to his definitions. How do librarians fit into this core? How do they not fit?

3. When Florida describes the working patterns and habits of the creative class, I wondered, 'Are these people being valued for their talents, creativity, and ability, or are they being taken advantage of?' What kind of toll is the creative class taking on itself? Similarly, what kind of toll are the service demands of the creative class taking on the lower and lower-middle class?

Sunday, October 31, 2004


1. Prasad discusses the issue of quality control. Has this focus transferred from actual products to the workers within the service sector? Prasad argues that customers' look to quality control for both distinction and assurance, is it possible for these properties be displayed in people, thus causing a change in the management's focus?

2.Both Prasad and Brynjolfsson/Hilt's article look at operational attempts to harness workers' knowledge/skill or IT benefits to best suit the company. Does the required input for IT differ from the steps necessary for quality control in terms of how it effects the workers?

3. All of the workers from these articles possessed qualities or work habits that were somehow unwieldy to management, requiring new strategies of work organization. All three articles discussed the different attempts of management to gain more control over quality, productivity and workers' knowledge. How is this idea similar to temp workers, when the individualized aspects of work are not viewed as advantageous to the company and instead become the focus of restructuring?

Questions for Halloween

1. Brynjolfsson and Hitt claim that with the investment in computer and information technology, a "firm has a new system with lasting value" (55). But how lasting is that value? If hardware and software advancements continue, will prior investments retain their value?

2. Prasad discusses the phenomena in which "an informal norm had developed such that styaing with a company longer than four or five years begins to be seen as deviant, such an employee may be presumed to be stagnating, or to have reached a limit" (437). How might this effect corportate/work culture(s)? How might it effect the worker and the worker's family?

3. B & H's discussion of workers' resistance to change - Why might those in charge, those who institute change, fail to plan for such resistance? How can they avoid it? Are humans/workers simply stubborn when they resist change? Or are they, at some level, concerned about how the job might change? That the change could lead to no job? That they might need to be 're-educated'?

Friday, October 29, 2004

for 1 November

1. What is the connection between the arguments made and the evidence presented in each of this week's articles? Do Ensmenger, Prasad, and the authors of the article on computers and productivity bother to prove their points?

2. What are the real life alternatives to the historical processes which are described in the three articles, i.e., resubordination of programmers to managers, artificial caps on job growth due to industry adoption of international standards, and organizational change induced by information automation?

3. Do management rights exist?

Questions, this week's trilogy

(Now, when's the Return of the King extended-edition DVD coming out again? Er, sorry.)

  1. How much "productivity gain," either historically or currently, is attributable to moving work further down the skills-and-pay chain? Brynjolfsson and Hitt paint this rosy picture of empowered workers doing better work -- but what happened to the workers at the one firm who resisted change? Demoted? Fired? Outsourced? What?

  2. Ahhhhh, management happy-talk. But seriously. Is it at least possible that the gains in "efficiency" realized by standards-and-TQM-implementing firms in India lead eventually to actual quality gains? I'm not sure there's been time enough for the changes to sink in (again, see Brynjolfsson and Hitt). I'm not wedded to this suggestion, mind you; I just don't think Prasad considered it adequately.

  3. Perhaps Greg would be willing to comment on how his experience speaks to Ensmenger's assertions about management and computer programmers?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

11/1 discussion questions

1. I was fascinated to read Prasad's description of the "dark side" of TQM. We've been talking about it quite a bit in my management class (and taking a postive perspective), mainly as a customer-based, customer-driven process of analysis and evaluation that actually empowers staff to be decision-makers in their organization. So, does Prasad's view of quality management as driven more by cost-effectiveness than actual quality apply to the nonprofit sector as well? Or do the focus and mission of nonprofits make it a more benevolent management strategy in that context?

2. Ensmenger makes a convincing argument for fitting computer programmers into the realm of technicians; however, something about it didn't quite sit right with me. In what ways do programmers NOT fit into the role of technician? Are there other ways of classifying programmers that also work?

3. Brynjolfsson and Hitt make the observation that while purchasing technology is relatively cheap, managing organizational change is expensive. Considering points from the Ensmenger article, what are some ways that management and "technicians" can work together to make this process smoother?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Shwartz, "Getting Real"

The science-fiction story about temps I mentioned in yesterday's class was "Getting Real" by Susan Shwartz. It has been anthologized in Newer York (Roc, ed. Lawrence Watt-Evans 1991) and Suppose They Gave A Peace and Other Stories, a Shwartz-only collection (Gale Group 2002).

SCLS has the Shwartz collection, but not the Watt-Evans. The UW has the Watt-Evans but not the Shwartz. Go figure.

Monday, October 25, 2004

I forgot one...

In what way(s) does the idea of temp work foster hope? In what way(s) is this 'false' hope? What leads people to temp work and what do they hope to gain from it? How is this different from the worker identity that agencies construct in their marketing enterprises?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Temps Questions and Commentary

Another comparison to Orr: Rogers remarks that 'dress' and 'appearance' are important for good/high-end placement for clerical temps. How can we correlate the temps' experiences with dress and appearance to that of the xerox technicians? How does dress construct identity within these systems?

2. While on the subject of identity construction...How does naming serve to identify workers' status within these forms of employment? What does it mean to be a contract attorney vs. a temp worker? What are the implications?

3. The student of rhetoric asks, in what way do the means of discursive control outlined by Rogers exist or operate in all forms of employment? In what ways are these methods specific to THS? For those out there who have temped, can you throw some examples our way? And how can we compare the storytelling we see in Temps with that which we see in Talking About Machines?

temps questions

1. Although Rogers has stated that the comparison between clerical and lawyer temps is a general overview, with not enough interviews from the lawyer temps to draw any conclusions, I found some differences between the two interesting. For example, Rogers includes both the martial and child status of the lawyer temps but not the clerical. Also, perhaps less significant, is the lack of discussion of jobs being cut short for the lawyer temps, are we to assume this wasn't a problem for temp lawyers? Do Roger's ommisions add or take away anything from her arguement?

2. While white, middle class, female workers seemed to be the epitome of what temp agencies and their clients were looking for in terms of clerical temps, the women lawyer temps seemed to be on the lower spectrum of options within their temping. What do these findings imply about women's place within the general labor market?

3. I could not help comparing the discussion of the isolation facing temps with that of Orr's community of technicains, dependent on talking to each other. Do you think that having a profession to identify with decreases this isolation? The clerical temps section seemed to focus on isolation much more than the lawyer temps, where instead the concern was networking.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

temps questions

I guess I must watch too many movies related to information and labor - anyone seen Haiku Tunnel, in which a white man in his 20s performs temporary clerical duties (sort of), works on writing his novel on the job, and finds he doesn't want to "go 'perm?'" And who are his clerical co-workers? Two young white women and a gay man.

1. Could we talk some more about the implications of 'doing' gender on the job? I don't disagree with Krasas Rogers that this happens, but the concept is introduced rather abruptly. If a gay Asian man is, in fact, 'doing' white heterosexual femininity to secure better placements, I'd like to know a little more about the how's and why's of that. Or is that necessarily the kind of gender he's 'doing?'

2. In contingent labor and 'three party' employment structures, how can the worker become more empowered and more in control?

3. I think this can be looked at both as labor that is temporary (and everything that entails) and labor that is... well... pimped out. There are two sets of issues going on. People who work for a company like Merry Maids have as much in common with clerical temps as do the temporary attorneys, just from a different perspective. What additional conclusions would be reached by analyzing temporary labor from the 'contracted out' angle and comparing it to other employees in that position?

4. Is this 'three party' employment structure more likely to occur when the labor pool in question is predominantly female?

Friday, October 22, 2004

LT questions about Temps

1. Is not eliminating temporary employment a desirable societal goal? Is it achievable? Or do we buy the notion that the state of the economy makes temporary employment an inevitable component of the contemporary labor market?

2. Are lawyers, who as portrayed in Temps have less social control on their economic activity than wandering samurai, a good representation of the reality of professional employment? Consider physicians, dentists, architects, and artists, in addition to the book examples of engineers and computer programmers.

3. How do the conditions of private agency supplied temporary clerical work compare to those of project and limited-term (indefinite part-time) employment in Wisconsin state government?

HP, IBM, Dell set `code' for treatment of workers (

In January, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, a non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom, issued a report stating that workers who make computer components for IBM, Dell and HP in Mexico, China and Thailand are suffering ``atrocious conditions for extremely low pay.''

Read the whole article at: | 10/21/2004 | HP, IBM, Dell set `code' for treatment of workers

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Questions, Temps

  1. Is there any way to consciousness-raise (sorry about the verb) the agency owners and managers so that they give more weight to the needs and concerns of workers?

  2. How has the temporary-labor industry reacted to the negative attention it has gotten in the research?

  3. Can information help the temporary worker? What information? And how does one reach them with it?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Pass the Prozac

What a depressing set of readings!

1. This question is for anyone who feels qualified to answer it (really, it isn't meant to be gender-determinate). How/why is it that complete devotion to the machine and its workings is seen by these undergrad male computer science majors as normal? At what point and in what type of environment does such a life (one that I would consider grossly unbalanced) become normalized?

2. Same article as above - This study was conducted in the late 90's. Does anyone know if there has been a follow up study? I guess my question is, do we know or do we think that the changes the university instituted helped alleviate the problem?

3. Tympas is critical of Light's focus on intellectual work, but Light does mention that the women are crawling around the machine looking for things that they need to fix/adjust/etc. To me, this did seem to indicate that she acknowledged the manual labor aspect of the job. I guess my point/question is, as much as manual labor seems to be gendered masculine, there are occupations that involve physical labor that are gendered female - occupations such as nursing. Is this because of the nature of the physical labor? Does this occur when the labor seems repetitive, boring, or odious for some other reason?

Sunday, October 17, 2004

October 18 questions

1. According to the Light and Margolis, Fischer and Miller articles women have been getting the short end of the stick in terms of the technology sector, at both the beginning and the end of the century. Do you agree? If so, why have women been adversely marginalized and stereotyped in regards to technology labor when in other societal aspects women have made some relative progress over the last century?

2. Is the tendency to discuss a machine's impact/importance over invisible human labor merely a result of ingrained capitalist and economic measurement? Would this help to explain why labor can become invisible, particularly in terms of technology?

3. Why do you think that women's lower confidence and self-comparison to male counterparts is so high in computer science, according to the article? Did Light pinpoint some defining moment in the history of technology that society has not found its way out of yet?

A question that goes back to last week's discussion. How important is the geography of Orr's study being located in Silicon Valley in his results? Would this same "community of technicians" be plausable anywhere, how about someplace in the Midwest region, besides the few large cities like Chicago or Milwaukee?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

for 18 October

From last week, based on p. 158, pgh. 2 of Orr: How does the subjective concept of "productive" work relate to the concept of skill in an occupation, and how does the perception of relative "productivity" determine the status of the worker? Apply these questions to the women working as computers or human calculators described in the Light article and alluded to by Tympas.

Issue of fact: do we understand the history of how women came to replace men as clerical workers (for example, as personal secretaries) in the early twentieth century? What is the connection of computers to the traditional information worker roles of women as governesses, companions to wealthy matrons, school teachers, telephone operators (this is for Greg to answer), and librarians (traditional only from the inception of Dewey's Library program at Columbia in the late 1880s)?

Light brings forward plenty of evidence that the labor of the WACS on early digital computers was highly regimented in the development phase, then hidden deliberately when the invention was publicized after World War II. Based just on the article, do we know enough to assert that the reason for hiding the women was sexist absolutism, a desire to bury the fact of women's contribution to the computer so as not to disturb the social relations of 1946, or were there issues of control of information, trust, and maintenance of subordination that the sexism played into? Consider how the identity politics of the late 1960s to the present have factored into the legal gains made by workers from the Wagner Act of the late 1930s to the cost of living adjustment contracts of the 1960s.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Questions, this week's three

  1. Has anything changed? (Think of this asked in the most despairing tone of voice imaginable.)

  2. Women's work = devalued work; devalued work is given to women. Does one break the cycle more easily by re-valuing women, or by re-valuing work independent of who performs it?

  3. Creditably, Margolis and Fisher focus on what we have to do for girls and young women to keep them in high-tech fields. This skates perilously close to victim-blaming, however, as Light's article amply demonstrates; there's really only so far women can go faced with a deeply hostile and dismissive atmosphere. So what do men have to do, hm? And how does anyone convince them to do it?

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

tympas/light/margolis et al questions

Before I get started, does anyone remember the movie Real Genius? The guys are all building super high-tech laser crap and making ice out of unstable gases in their free time and the woman in the movie's big accomplishment is building some sort of sled. Well, that and seducing a minor. Still... a fine film.

1. Light writes that hardware design was considered to be a man's job, while software programming was woman's work. Working on the assumption that computer science is now a solidly masculinized field, how and why did women lose their niche in programming?

2. Among participants in the Margolis et. al. study, male and female students reported different ways of relating to computers and different visions of what it was possible to do with them. What are the implications of the traditional ways of being a computer scientist? What would change about the field if the dominant 'ways of being' changed? What is specifically masculine about those ways of being? What is not?

3. Tympas is critical of Light, writing that by focusing her study on the mental labor of a handful of women as opposed to the manual labor of many women and men, she reproduces traditional hierarchies in the division of labor. Is his criticism valid? Why or why not?

tympas/light/margolis et al questions

Before I get started, does anyone remember the movie Real Genius? The guys are all building super high-tech laser crap and making ice out of unstable gases in their free time and the woman in the movie's big accomplishment is building some sort of sled. Well, that and seducing a minor. Still... a fine film.

1. Light writes that hardware design was considered to be a man's job, while software programming was woman's work. Working on the assumption that computer science is now a solidly masculinized field, how and why did women lose their niche in programming?

2. Among participants in the Margolis et. al. study, male and female students reported different ways of relating to computers and different visions of what it was possible to do with them. What are the implications of the traditional ways of being a computer scientist? What would change about the field if the dominant 'ways of being' changed? What is specifically masculine about those ways of being? What is not?

3. Tympas is critical of Light, writing that by focusing her study on the mental labor of a handful of women as opposed to the manual labor of many women and men, she reproduces traditional hierarchies in the division of labor. Is his criticism valid? Why or why not?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Questions about Talk and machines

1. Is Orr's treatment of talk and discourse and narrative undertheorized? He writes about the place of discourse and narrative, of storytelling, to these technicians, yet he ignores a lot of research on discursive practices and narratology. How might this effect his conclusions? How does it effect his treatment of the place of discourse in the work environment?

2. While it is clear that Orr refers back to Geertz's work, how does he envision his ethnographic processes within the context of these methodologies? How does he approach fieldnotes? What method of data (audio tape) transcription does he use? Why? While he is taking his fieldnotes, what interactions between his subjects does he miss? Why didn't he take post-field work interviews with the participants? What cognitive processes and/or thoughts did he miss because they weren't articulated?

3. "white-hatted wrench-slingers" (160). This notion of the technicians as rescuers reminded me of a great ethnographic study by Ann Dyson - Writing Superheroes - about early elementary students who construct themselves and their place in the classroom community by writing and acting out "stories" they write about superheroes (X-Men, Ninja Turtles, etc). The children, like these technicians, position themselves within their world in a way that often valorizes them.

I guess this isn't really a question as much as a comment. Or maybe it is part of a question. Does this indicate some sort of human need to be important within the context of one's life? Is it a way to find power in a world that renders us powerless? Are these workers able to demonstrate (at least to themselves) that they are more than just cogs in the corporate machine?


I know the Temps book comes later in the semester, but y'all might find this article at the interesting.

Orr post

My 1969 American Heritage dictionary defines Ethnography as 1. Descriptive anthropology of technologically primitive societies; 2. Ethnology. Ethnology is defined as "the anthropological study of socio-economic systems and cultural heritage, especially of cultural origins and of factors affecting cultural growth and change, in technologically primitive societies." If we apply this non-PC definition, which clearly identifies some societies as "technologically primitive," to Orr's technicians, can they be said to be "primitive," either technologically or otherwise? Are they primitive today, in 2004, compared to when the research was done in the late 1980s? What is the position of technician jobs in terms of industrial production?

Orr invokes Levi-Strauss's concept of the Bricoleur, a small town French handyman, as a model for the diagnostic smarts displayed by his technicians. Orr calls bricolage "the reflective manipulation of a closed set of resources to accomplish some purpose." Is this a good or useful analogy? And if so, so what?

In the chapter "Warranted and other conclusions," Orr mentions in passing the management threat of "deskilling" jobs, but suggests that the "occupational community" in the case of the technicians possesses sufficient expertise and social cohesion to resist deskilling and the associated loss of control and status. Are they strong enough to resist other threats--discrimination in hiring, layoffs, cuts in pay, cuts in benefits, retraining, drug testing, background checks by Homeland Security?

Extra, based on p. 158, pgh. 2:
Orr argues convincingly for ethnographic study of all types of skilled practice, and seems to have a clear concept of how one may find skilled practice at play in the most "unskilled" or low-status occupations. How does the subjective concept of "productive" work relate to the concept of skill in an occupation, and how does the perception of relative "productivity" determine the status of the worker?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

questions about machines

1. More on the ethnography question, is it important for Orr to earn the respect of the other technicians in order for this research to work? Several times he seems to emphasize this knowledge and there are times when it is even acknowledged by the other technicians. Does this elicit more disclosure and allow Orr "membership" into their social network?

2. Is there anything significant about the public presence of this community of technicians, for example meeting at restaurants for breakfast, lunch or coffee? Orr seems to really focus on the dialouge that occurs as a major influence on both the workers and their jobs. He also refers to this aspect as being potential invisible or disregarded by management, yet it often occurs in very public places.

3. When Orr does refer to management it seems to be a matter of pointing out a discrepancy between the technicians and the management. Do you agree? Does this give readers a biased view of management?

For my fellow librarians

Not entirely sure what patronized will turn out to be, but it purports to be "a semi-annual publication about the lives and labor of librarians."

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Questions, Talking About Machines

This doesn't count as one of my questions, but what is with that title? When the whole point of the book is not just talking about machines!

Right. Questions.

  1. Could we get an overview on ethnographic research methods? Observation, interviewing, fitting oneself into the population being researched, making sense of the results -- this is all very interesting, and I know very little about it.

  2. On the management and de-skilling question (p. 150): I'm not even sure where to start with this. So-called "knowledge management" efforts have struck me as management's wishful attempts at de-skilling employees ("if we could only get that knowledge out of their pesky heads, we could fire 'em and hire youngsters at half the cost!"). Is invisible labor invisible to management too? Why doesn't management employ some of the same ethnographic techniques Orr uses in order to understand what their workers actually do? And whence cometh this delusion that hands-on experience can be reduced to an intranet or a training session?

  3. That said, is Orr's service triangle really a quadrangle? Where is IBM management in all this?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

orr questions

1. Orr emphasizes the importance of studying work practices, because the picture of work that emerges from these studies is frequently much different than the one revealed by studying the employment relationship or identity construction through one's work. The ethnographic approach, as evidenced by this book, uncovers much, but what does ethnography miss and what are its limitations? What important aspects of work, if any, cannot be adequately addressed by the ethnographic approach?

2. While reading, I kept contrasting Talking About Machines with an article by Elfreda Chatman about alientation theory and information behaviors of janitors. It is the most depressing article ever written, while Orr's is, at times, almost celebratory. The research methods are different and so are the research aims, so the fact that I kept putting the two works together struck me as odd.

There were some obvious similarities - both groups of workers had few prospects for advancement within their organization, both lacked a constant 'space' in which work took place, and both were separated, both physically and ideologically, from management. However, while the janitors did not have an active social and information sharing network with their co-workers, the technicians obviously did. The janitors overwhelmingly lived in an alientated social world. The technicians, as a result of this network, did not seem to. They did sometimes express frustration and the sense that their concerns were not being heard by management, but they didn't seem exactly alienated.

So, finally coming to the question: is the social and information-sharing network among co-workers enough to eradicate alientation? Mask it? Or is it possible that Orr did not include this because it was not part of a work practice?

3. Throughout my experiences in different work environments, people always seem to be attributing human characteristics to the machines they work with daily (i.e. 'The copy machine hates me,' 'My computer died,' or my personal favorite, watching a co-worker 'pet' and whisper encouragements to a printer in an attempt to coax it into printing). The technicians don't do this, and thankfully, don't seem to have this kind of relationship with their machines. How could we characterize the relationship between technician and machine, and how is it different from the relationship between technician and customer?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Questions Rosenhaft and Downey

1. Downey's article discusses the importance of human interaction and the focus of the telegraph company on image in the business, as helping to make the workers visible. Is the invisiblity of information workers due to a decrease in face to face (and even voice) interaction? If so, why has this affected information workers more than other workers where electronic communication is also increasing? How has the changing interface of the web influenced the perception of workers behind it?

2. Rosenhaft compares the mental and physical stresses that Dies, Rath and Eisendecker experience in their clerical work, as it relates to the conditions of the 18th century. To what extent have technological advances decreased mental and physical stress at work? How does it relate to job satisfaction? Rosenhaft implies that "cramp seemed in many cases to include an element of psychic resistance to the specific task," doesn't this suggest something?

3. Jeff seperates Mr.Dies job into three different areas, and Rosenhaft connects work involving new fields of knowledge and new technology with prestige. As Mary points out, Mr. Dies never benefits from this prestige. However this connection has interesting implications in terms today's workforce in comparison to Rosenhaft's study. Is the increased segmention of work responsible for decreasing prestige (data entry) or increased prestige (computer programers) in terms of information workers? Are there factors that determine this hierarchy?

One, Two, Three Questions

After commenting on student papers all weekend, I now have scrivener's palsy....

1. This is probably similar to earlier questions - In the Rosenhaft essay, it seems that attaining certain levels of literacy is necessary to attain these work positions, yet it is the production of literacy that constrains these men; in fact, it is what leads to Dies' job loss. Contrary to what many might assume, the attainment of literacy leads to oppressive work conditions, not advanced status. How might we apply this idea today?

2. Again, similar to other questions, but I am interested in the injuries and maladies that tend to arise from this sort of work (in Rosenhaft). While clearly in the Rosenhaft essay the workers are male, it seems that today many of these workers are female. And many of these maladies are seen as "phantom" illnesses. Many of the occupations/duties described by Rosenhaft are now considered feminized occupations; they entail drudge work. I'm wondering how (or if) gender figures into the credibility given to these injuries and illnesses, as well as the status accredited to these jobs.

3. This question is more a plea for help. Can someone (the author of the article in which the term is used, perhaps) explain the technological systems paradigm to me in more detail?

4. Access to information (in Rosenhaft) supposedly means that the worker will earn more, but it seems that the workers in question don't have the level of access to merit retaining them. They seem to have become machine parts that come in contact with the information and produce more information, yet aren't seen as a large threat to company security (it took Calenberg quite a bit of time to determine that Dies might be a threat, that he might spread his expertise to companies in other cities). I don't know where this is going, it is a point that keeps gnawing at me.

and I would like to discuss the "boundaries" issue, too.

Let's try the 2nd question again

2. After rereading this at home, it seemed garbled to me, so here's another go. Thanks to Mary for bringing up the status issue explicitly.

Dies and Eisendecker had work responsibilities at different levels of status--(1) menial and/or clerical work (all phases of record-keeping for the Widow's fund), (2) public and customer relations = professional work, and (3) confidential work like money handling, communication with the trustees--these would be managerial or proprietary functions. How did Dies and Eisendecker and and how do their analogs in the late 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries mediate between their personal interests and their job responsibilities depending on variations in working conditions, treatment by the employer, and their stake in the success of the employer?

To add to this, were the professional recognition accorded to Dies as a polemicist for the fund and the proprietary information to which he had access enough to compensate him for his stagnant salary and lack of control over his work?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

rosenhaft/downey questions

1. Rosenhaft explains that poor Mr. Dies had every reason to expect that his work with the Intelligenz-Comtoir and the Calenberg would expediate his assent to the class of gentlemen and the scientific community. He was working with new technologies in a new field that directly affected the lives of a great number of citizens. Yet, it did't work out that way - Dies didn't do any social climbing. In fact, it seems that the longer he held his position, the lower he fell in the estimation of his employers and the public. Why wasn't Dies welcomed into the fold of the new information class? Why was he, in fact, actively excluded, and in what ways?

2. Barley & Orr and Zabusky all view technical work as being somehow positioned at a crossroads. Technical workers have a foot in two worlds - one moving forward technologically and one "not quite ready to leave behind the categories of industrialism." I agree with Dorothea that there are many places where this concept of boundaries fits in, and wanted to add to her examples the idea of boundaries in the nature of the labor performed by tech/information workers. Argh... this isn't coming out as a question. I guess my 'question' is pretty much: "Yeah, I want to talk about boundaries, too."

3. "The past isn't over - it's not even past." Post-industrial society, information age, technological revolution - whatever you want to call it - isn't happening in a vacuum. How do the social structures and institutions created by industrial and pre-industrial society still operate now? How "appropriate" are they - do they help us or hold us back? Also, what aspects of industrial and pre-industrial society have disappeared, and what has replaced them?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Rosenhaft/Downey questions

1. We know from Rosenhaft's evidence the base sum from which Dies's and Eisendecker's salaries and pensions were drawn, 500 Rtl. (=Reichsthaler?), and also that each suffered from a work-related health problem. What else can we infer about their hours and other "terms and conditions of employment"?

2. Although responsible for all phases of record-keeping for the Widow's fund, Dies and Eisendecker seem to have been responsible for maintaining the fund's public image, much as the help desk workers, telephone operators, and messengers Greg discusses are held accountable for being the company's public faces. Dies also had the opportunity to damage the Widow's fund in private, because he handled money and knew the Fund's secrets, just as system operators have control over users and access to proprietary information. How did and do these employees mediate between their personal interests and their job responsibilities depending on variations in working conditions, treatment by the employer, and their stake in the success of the employer?

3. What control if any would access to collective bargaining have given Dies and Eisendecker over their working conditions? What advantage would accrue to system operators if they were not treated as managers and had the opportunity to bargain collectively?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Questions, Downey and Rosenhaft

  1. Perhaps Greg would unpack his notion of "boundary" a little in class? He defines it as relative to subnetworks within an internetwork, but it seems to me there's more going on there: boundaries between network users and maintainers, boundaries between labor and the study thereof, boundaries between labor and management.
  2. In Rosenhaft's article, poor Mr. Dies, despite obvious competence his managers lacked, could not parlay that competence into, shall we say, a competency. Rosenhaft appears to attribute this to vestiges of the patronage system, but I'm not so sure -- it seems a tremendously modern situation to me. So I'm asking: why is the power relationship there so one-sided? Why are Dies's numbers trustworthy when it comes to actuarial analysis, but not when it comes to his own household's financial needs?
  3. Could we talk about the boundaries between "technical" and "professional" work (Downey p. 228, in re: computer programmers)? I'm sure there's a set of distinctions; I'm just highly unclear on what they are, which makes it hard for me to see how the situation of programmers violates them.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Drat, Last Again!

It is a good thing I chose not to indulge in reading the latest Lemony Snicket novel, or this would have been even later.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to mention that not just once, but twice I fell asleep while reading Bell. While his prose is not quite as turgid as a certain historian of literacy who shall remain unnamed, it comes close.

1. Not a question so much as a statement (namely, ick!): "Whatever the extaordinary appeal of Marxism as a social appeal, it was in backward countries, not advanced capitalist countries, that Marxist movements have been most successful" (56). [italics are mine]

Bell fails to examine his own assumptions, those ideas and ideologies upon which his own worldview are based. Maybe this is my question: if we were to flesh out the assumptions on which Bell grounds this statement, would the argument hold up? How do his biases effect his conclusions and/or affect reaction to his conclusions.

2. "Not only is there a much greater degree of educational attainment, but there is also a greater degree of cultural homogeny" (143). What is Bell's basis for this correlation. Does greater "educational attainment" lead to "cultural homogeny," or are there other factors at play here? In a text full of references to information, he doesn't seem to consider the manner in which information (and entertainment) are disseminated and how this might also be a factor. Or does he?

3. As you probably noticed, I've been busy examining the assumptions behind Bell's argument. Here is another item that troubled me. "News is no longer reported but interpreted"(468). When had it ever been otherwise? While admittedly discussions of representation are perhaps more in vogue now than when Bell wrote his book, he has, I think, quoted enough dead Germans (and others) as well as referred to ethos, the representation of character, the idea of information/knowledge, to understand that all news, all information, is interpreted. Since he refers, at times, to Plato, shouldn't he be more consciously aware of the Forms?

I guess all of this (and other points of question that I didn't post) stem from this issue of assumptions and biases. What did or didn't Bell see, consider, "forecast, etc., because of assumptions he made based on his definitions, the methodologies he privileges (and I have heaps to say about this), etc?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Saturday, September 25, 2004

bell questions

1. How can a post-industrial society exist as a seperate entity at the national/state scale, when it uses resources from other pre-industrial and labor from other pre-industrial and industrial societies? Is our national economy still distinct or is it dependent on other national economies? How can post-industrial society be defined at national/state scale when the economy apparently transcend these very boundaries (by being dependent on the resources of other societies)?

2. Why has Bell's terminology of the "post-industrial society" become so well known when the point of his book, the growing sector of technology labor and its forcasted implications, has remained largely ignored/invisible by other social sceintists?

3. On page 75 Bell states that in a industrial society, "there is a separation of the economic system from the family system. Is there a seperation between work and home in a post-industrial society, as our homes and persons become increasingly wired?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Post 2, second try

Notes on Daniels:

p. 117: for our benefit, we need a "classic" definition of productivity, since the reality of the concept is one of the contested areas in labor relations.

118: ICT makes the work place, especially for proletarianized workers, more like a play place; yes, I and my faculty colleagues tended to relieve stress by shopping online, especially late in the afternoon.

Is there a causal link between new information technology and labor market deregulation, or is the new technology just an excuse for deregulation that is motivated by political goals?

Table 3, p. 124: 5.37% of US population being enrolled in tertiary education is still not much, but for some reason we don't regard this as an industry that should be allowed to grow. This connects to the table of shifting jargon below: right-sizing is not a joke, the term has a political history in academia.

p. 126, figure 6: why so many job cuts in Telecommunications in UK in 2001--increased automation?

Concept of foreign direct investment (FDI) needs to be fleshed out.

p. 128: what is "prudential supervision"?

p. 129: "just-in-time" systems are what?

p. 130: following on the question of whether or not there is equilibrium between economic activity and employment in developed economies, can we identify a date when equilibrium of this kind existed in the US economy? (I would propose ca. 1958.)

p. 133: "A select subset of very high order service functions may still hanker after the accessibility or face-to-face contact opportunities of a downtown location; for everybody else telephone and video-conferencing for example, will be more than adequate substitutes."--in other words, elite business will still be done in the old-fashioned way, through quasi-informal contacts, while the bulk of functions will be routinized and pushed offstage. In Zweizig's Management class (654) in 1999, we learned that high-level decisions, i.e., at the CEO or presidential level, are still made based on verbally-conveyed information from a handful of close advisors or confidants, thus defeating the purpose of ICT--instantaneous delivery of accurate information to decision-takers. Ultimate leaders only act supported by trusted intimates who can filter raw information and validate decisions.

About "Robots": I have an anecdote about robots in the Silicon valley ca. 1977 to share in class.

"American Prosperity Myth":Article seems to avoid pointing out that the current economy is paid for by excessive consumption combined with low rates of personal saving.

Bush/Cheney and their core supporters are more mercantilist than capitalist--take example of Wal-Mart profits, based more on control over underserved workers and a vacuum in the marketplace than productivity--similarly, the administration plan for the economy is to secure control over resources, not to produce more with what's available--production being too costly and tending to lead to demand for workers at higher wages. Note end of article: "the injunction is to sweat assets rather than be creative."

jjg 27 September questions

1. Three related questions:

a. What can we infer from "Coming of post-industrial society" about Bell's political leanings, educational background, and career path, and how does this personal context shape his conclusions?

b. Are Bell's forecasts convincing based on the evidence he presents, or is he presenting a personal utopia?

c. Who (as a political grouping) is Bell anxious to refute in the process of forecasting?

2. Who are the winners and who are the losers in Bell's projection of the post-industrial society?

3. How does the self-styled Conservative movement of the last twenty-five years fit into Bell's agenda? Why isn't the corporation "subordinate" in 2004?

Questions, Daniel Bell

  1. How does the notion of "intellectual property" affect Bell's Chapter 6 claim that we are moving away from a system based on private control of property? Is it really who's holding onto the property that's changing (as Bell asserts), or is it what "property" is being held? Or both?

  2. "Clearly, when there is a change in the nature of the system, new groups come to power." This strikes me as a fundamental claim in the book, and frankly, I don't believe it; the New Overlords look an awful lot like the Old Overlords if you're female, non-white, or poor. What is there about the reproduction of social class through generations that Bell doesn't account for?

  3. There have been significant attacks on the notion of "rationality" in human psychology and sociology in the past five to ten years or so, from Tversky and Kahneman's Nobel-prize-winning lambasting of homo economicus (short summary: we don't always make the objectively "rational" economic choice for a variety of reasons), to the emergent-behavior and tipping-point models of idea diffusion, to the notion of quick-and-dirty "heuristics" rather than ponderously meticulous examination of options as a basis for decision-making. What do these challenges mean for Bell's assertions about the destiny of the rational technocrat?

"Committee blocks minimum wage increase" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Saying an increase in the minimum wage would threaten small businesses and Wisconsin's fragile economic recovery, Republican legislators Thursday blocked Gov. Jim Doyle's plan to raise the $5.15-per-hour minimum wage to $6.50 over the next year.

Ideas on how this relates to "information labor"?

JS Online: Committee blocks minimum wage increase

Thursday, September 23, 2004

bell questions

1. When Bell talks about the diffusion of technology, the job seems to be in the hands of the bureaucracy, both corporate and political. Where's the little guy in all of this, the invisible labor? Is there room for individual agency in the process of diffusion?

2. Bell hints at a changing class structure as a result of the shifting social structure, positing scientists and professional technical workers as a potential new ruling class and education as the basis of social mobility. At the same time, Bell undervalues the power, prestige, and status that come with wealth, providing the examples that wealth doesn't lead to prestige and political power doesn't guarantee wealth. However, it seems that we're no closer to post-capitalism than we were when the book was published and the class system seems as inflexible and influential as ever. Much of Bell's forecasting has proven shockingly accurate. However, I would suggest that when Bell's forecasts were off base, they were off base because he neglected to acknowledge the strength and resilience of class structure in America.

I'm boiling any weaknesses in his forecasting primarily down to this one thing and wondering whether this is simplistic, controversial, or just a big old 'duh.' Whaddya think?

3. In Bell's post-industrial society, scientists outweigh even the other professional/technical elites in terms of importance, and even in status. In the conclusion, however, he admits that it is "not the power to say 'yes' or 'no' which is where real power lies." What are some ways this group (I hesitate to call them a class) might infiltrate the bureacracy to get that power? Is that a desired part of their group's role? Would science and technology benefit or suffer from such a shift of power?

Monday, September 20, 2004

questions for 9.20

There are already so many questions posted that interest me, but will go ahead with mine, just for the record.

Definitional: What are ‘symbolic analysts?’ (226)

Is increasinging individualization of labor necessarily a bad thing? Aren’t there connotations of autonomy and self-expression here? No longer a cog in the machine?

What happens without labor movements? Are they an absolute and necessary good?

Why does the innovation get all the attention? In the words of my friend John, is it a ‘gadgety guy-thing’?

pat's intro

Hello all,

Since I will be joining you tonight for class, I think it's time to introduce myself.

I am itinerant doctoral student, yes, I have been at this for quite some time, embarrassingly so. I'll spare you the details of my student career, but will say that if I had scurried rather than strolled through this program, I would now be on sabbatical. Instead, I am scurrying to write my dissertation. Which takes me to the reason for being in this class.

I have been teaching Info Org courses at the University of Illinois since Fall 2000, and have enjoyed every minute of it. But one can only be 'Visiting' for so long. Since being at Illinois, I have heard countless conversations about designing progams centered on "Digital Libraries" and have more often than not been stunned by the proposed courses. Mathematics, algorithms, in short, what looks much more like a CS than an LIS degree.

For the last ten years, there has been a tremendous amount of money and energy invested in creating digital libraries. Infrastructure and getting things to work and developing new tools have, rightly so (arguably) been the main object of grant monies. Now, the funding pendulum is swinging towards preservation and use. What I have yet to see much of, though, is discussion of the nature of the work for digital librarians, or, 'digital era librarians.' Indiana just received an IMLS grant that includes a needs assessment for digital librarianship, this is encouraging.

My research will examine the nature of the work, the context, the values, and perspectives of the LIS digital librarian. Via case studies, I hope to discover these aspects of digital librarianship, and with this, contribute to the design of relevant LIS programs.

Thank you all in advance for letting me join in your conversations.

See you tonight.


Sunday, September 19, 2004

More Questions...

Greetings fellow 810 laborers!

Or are we? This is my first question, one that applies not only to this text but to the course as a whole. How do we define labor and who do we name laborers? What is explicit and implicit in the use of these terms? How do those who call themselves laborers or see themselves part of a 'labor group' claim ownership of these terms and use them to exert agency?

ok, second question. pp. 243-244 and the gendered labor forces, education, etc. Historically, my area within English departments, that of composition studies, is seen as the feminized field. Teaching composition is more labor intensive than teaching literature and, earlier in the last century, these labor-intensive (and thus undesirable) jobs went to women and part time faculty(who were often women). I'm not sure where my little questionless ramble is going - perhaps that is because I wanted to read more about this point in the essay. Perhaps because of the essay's function as an end-of-the-book commentary it must be a briefly made point. I guess my question, if it is one, is that aside from instinctual knowledge and bits of knowledge about this topic accumulated from other areas, I am not entirely clear how it is functioning within info tech labor. Anyone care to clarify this for me?

And now I need a third question - Whatever shall it be....

Just what information technology labor 'is' appears to be somewhat nebulous (see pages 240-242). At what point does information technology labor merge with other forms of labor? and why or why doesn't this matter? Are we all laborers in an information economy?

ok, a fourth question - how are we defining revolution? What constitutes a revolution? And why does it matter if it is a 'revolution' or not?

I seem to be leaning towards the semantics of all of this tonight. Fear not, it won't always be this way.

Sorry this came out so late in the evening - I really would keep vampire hours if I thought I could get away with it.


Post three: questions for discussion, 20 September

1. What is a "unit of analysis"? How is this concept relevant to terms as broad as "technology" or "information"? Is the notion of objective analysis useful for subjective, ideologically-driven, non-quantitative studies, or is this just a metaphor?

2. What are CERN and NCSA?

3. From Downey p. 235: Shoshana Zuboff says that IT produces a "voice" which changes the language of the workplace so that workers think and feel differently. Whose voice is it? Is it new information, or does it drown out the possibility of creating new information? And what about the workers' voice?

4. Since 2. is not really a discussion question: Downey p. 246: how might the corporate history of McDonald's help to predict the future of Wal-Mart?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

downey article questions

1. What are the differences between the invisible work of women and the invisible work coming from the Information sector?

2. How can the effects of IT and Neolibralism be seperated and are there any interactions between them?

3. Why does IT create competition that leads to job loss instead of creating better jobs?

Friday, September 17, 2004

Film reaction (and brief heads-up)

Heads-up first: Karen Riggs's book is so new that finding reviews is proving to be a challenge. I'll keep an eye on incoming stuff in the SLIS library.

Next, film reaction: What's stuck with me nearly a week later is a disconnect in the word "skill" that the film hinted at deconstructing but didn't quite fully address: broad, transferable, long-term skills (group work, management, artistic or writing skill, "learning how to learn") and focused, immediate, obsolescence-prone skills ("Photoshop 4").

For all the verbiage about the former type of skill, much of the effort expended goes toward inculcating the latter type.

Why? Well, immediate business needs are part of it, of course, and the film made that clear. I think there's more to it, though. I don't think educators are nearly as confident as the film made them sound in either their ability to communicate the former type of skill or its long-term viability in the job market. Given that, it's hardly a surprise that they turn to skills that are easier to teach, easier to measure, and easier to make an immediate business case ("these students will get hired!") for.

It does a long-term disservice to students, naturally; I think we were all wincing at the airy assumptions about job security and financial success based on quickly-obsolete software skills. Moreover, it leaves the educators open to charges of wilful cluelessness or even hypocrisy; surely they know what they're teaching will become obsolete? But the educators are in a cleft stick -- if they admit they don't know where the job market will go or how well their preparation for it will hold up, who will value their service?

I don't have an answer to this conundrum myself, though I do wish educators could acknowledge it openly. Hiding it does little to solve it.

Questions, Downey article

  1. I doubt I'd ask this if the article author weren't teaching the class, but nonetheless: Why the apologetic captatio benevolentiae stance in the opening section? What is the methodological, ethical, or other problem with analyzing a phenomenon in which one happens to have participated? Julian Orr was a copy-machine repairman himself; Jackie Rogers was a temp. That hasn't brought their work into question that I'm aware. So why apologize?

  2. The article discusses how researchers are now making certain classes of information labor (e.g. women, freelancers, production workers) visible that had been swept under the carpet. How'd they become invisible to researchers in the first place? Is it (as implied) just a thoughtless error of emphasis, or is something else at work?

  3. Is collectivization our best or our only response to the growing problem of low-wage low-status work? As information laborers of one stripe or another, what is our recourse, what is our likeliest plan of action, to keep our dignity and raise society's perception of our value? Consider the Schlage workers in the film, whose merely obsolete skills were compared to the nonexistent (with relation to that job, anyway) skills of a fast-food restaurant worker. Moreover, is "information laborer" really the right scale to use when considering labor action? Do we need a broader perspective?

Thursday, September 16, 2004


Just wanted to post a thought about the film on Monday, some aspects of which were touched upon during discussion. The film's treatment of technology leading to jobs and hence security (the viewpoint of many high school tech program propents) juxtaposed with the effects of globilization and therefore competition brought many issues of post-industrial society to the forefront. The example of the factory workers, who learned and incorporated technology into their jobs only to then lose these jobs exemplified one issue. The two students who did not go on to college either faced serious competition or not enough technology training. The pressure of globalization appeared to be a serious factor in the push for technology and overall job security.

No union for you!

Per the National Labor Relations Board, TAs are no longer permitted to unionize at Brown University.

I'm so glad SLIS is a short program, so I can get out before the UW kicks the TAA off campus and my husband and I (both grad students; he's a TA and I'm a PA) lose our health insurance...

The story linked above hints at something relevant to class: it's "academic work," so it's apparently not labor. Uh-huh. It's labor when professors do it, but not when TAs do it. Right, okay, whatever.

Three questions coming tomorrow, promise, but did want to share this with everyone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

"Fewer can afford college in state" (Captial Times)

With respect to our brief discussion of the "digital divide" film from Monday, comes this disturbing statistic reported in today's Capital Times:

A decade ago, 30 of every 100 people age 18 to 24 from minority ethnic groups were enrolled in college in Wisconsin; now only 16 of 100 are.

If college, and not tech skills, truly is the more reliable stepping stone to a "high tech career" (whatever that is), then we have cause to worry here in the Badger State.

The Capital Times

"High - Tech Market Has Lost 400, 000 Jobs" (NYT)

Interesting article today from the Associated Press in the NYT:

The U.S. information tech sector lost 403,300 jobs between March 2001 and this past April, and the market for tech workers remains bleak, according to a new report.

Perhaps more surprising, just over half of those jobs -- 206,300 -- were lost after experts declared the recession over in November 2001, say the researchers from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

In all, the researchers said, the job market for high-tech workers shrank by 18.8 percent, to 1,743,500 over the period studied. [...]

The report, funded by the Ford Foundation, was conducted for the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a Seattle organization that wants to unionize workers at Microsoft Corp. and other technology companies.

The New York Times > AP > Technology > High - Tech Market Has Lost 400, 000 Jobs:

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

blok/downey discussion questions

1. In both the Introduction and the Commentary, there is an acknowledgement that the term 'revolution' is sometimes problematic. Sometimes it's hastily applied and sometimes one person's revolution is another person's evolution. For the purposes of our discussion in this course, what is the definition of an 'Information Revolution' and what types of changes have to take place both in the social/technological/structual frameworks and in the lived experiences of those affected by them?

2. Maybe the information revolution was all a grand conspiracy by THE MAN to dissolve the collective bargaining power of workers by disaggregating them. Maybe labor unions refused to see the changes coming in time. Regardless, people involved in information labor don't have a great deal of union representation, and labor unions in their current form don't seem applicable to the structure of information labor. Can labor unions change to become relevant to these workers? How?

3. It seems like many of the individuals who fit into Blok's subdivisions of information laborers wouldn't call what they do 'labor.' What are some of the ideas and assumptions bound up with the term 'labor?'

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The New Blue Collar?

Howdy all. I'm Mary McCoy, slogging and blogging through my last year of SLIS, yet still trying to get my head around what it means to be an information professional. Something that's been on my mind quite a bit lately is the nagging suspicion that, in its present state, higher education isn't quite equipped to prepare students for the information economy. Medicine? Law? Biochemistry? Higher education has those fields pretty well mapped out. Library education, however, seems to occupy this nebulous area somewhere in between academia and tech school, and is possibly not doing either side justice.

I almost felt guilty signing up for this class - kept thinking 'shouldn't you be learning how to build a database or something practical that you're equally uninterested in?' In the end, I was seduced by the reading list.

Other reasons I'm in this course? Low-skill white collar may be the new blue collar, and I'd like to know more about the implications of this (or if I'm even right about that idea at all). What happens when a large pool of young, college-educated workers earn less and have fewer benefits than the generations before them who may have entered the work force armed only with a high school diploma? Also, what happens as this new pool of workers ages? My father has had the same job since he was 24, and now, is just a couple years away from retiring young with full benefits. Can't think of a single soul my own age who's headed for such a life - not even the responsible, career/money-oriented ones. Is the class of 2005 doomed?

And with that cheery thought, enjoy your Saturday morning coffee.