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?