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?'