Computers and Social Change
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Did you ever see a film or drawing of the early designs for flying machines? Most resembled birds; many had flapping wings. It was not until we developed theoretical and practical experience with aerodynamics that we designed modern aircraft. Marx, studying the technology of the early Industrial Revolution, observed:

To what an extent the old forms of the instruments of production influenced their new forms at first starting, is shown,...perhaps more strikingly than any other way, by the attempts before the invention of the present locomotive, to construct a locomotive that actually had two feet, which after the fashion of a horse, it raised alternatively from the ground. It is only after considerable development of the science of mechanics, and accumulated practical experience, that the form of a machine becomes settled entirely in accordance with mechanical principles, and emancipated from the traditional form of the tool that gave rise to it (Marx, 1867).

Computers are flexible tools for communication and control. But, before we will be able to use them for new purposes, their design must be emancipated from the older systems for coordinating human activity we developed during the Industrial Revolution.

As we saw in Chapter 3, the modern computer originated from the same social conditions that produced factories and industrial machinery. Charles Babbage's design was not only for a machine, but also for a division of labor. In On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832), Babbage analyzed the factory system and recommended a policy for industrialization that treated labor as a factor of production. Babbage emphasized the need for factual information on which to base production and marketing decisions. Much of his argument was a precursor to Scientific Management -- the application of scientific principles to the subject of the division of labor in order to make a profit.

Although not a direct precursor of Frederick Taylor's work, Babbage was interested in the same sort of time and motion studies that became the hallmark of Scientific Management's approach to designing the conditions of work (Gideon, 1982:114). Babbage pointed out that the organization of work into specialized tasks would reduce the costs of labor by reducing the degree of skill required by the laborer. Babbage's analytical engine (the first modern digital computer design) was never actually built, but he envisioned its design as contributing to a "new mode of work" that would have a "lasting impulse on manufacturing" (Hyman, 1982:112-134).

The new mode of work established by the Industrial Revolution used Babbage's ideas about the division of labor but not his analytic engine. Braverman says of Babbage:

Applied first to handicrafts and then to the mechanical crafts, Babbage's principle eventually becomes the underlying force governing all forms of work in capitalist society...This might even be called the general law of the capitalist division of labor (1976:81-3).

It was not until World War II and the development of cybernetic communication and control technologies, that we began to apply digital computers to industrial work, but some of the most interesting contemporary debates about the social effects of computers involve their impact predicted by Babbage more than a century and a half ago. Analysts tend to agree that the technology is being used to create a new division of labor; they disagree over what structural form it will take and what will be the resulting types of jobs, working conditions, wages, and social statuses. In doing so, we have tended to make the same assumptions about human skill that were made in designing the factory system. In other words, we have designed our computer systems to look like factories. We have extended the Industrial Revolution by implementing new technologies for rationalizing and mechanizing individual skills and for supervising the tasks of employees. But we have only begun to explore the possibilities of a new division of labor based on radically different assumptions about work.


Change in society's occupational structure occurs when jobs are eliminated, when new jobs are created, or when the job tasks, titles, and rewards are being transformed. Historically, industrialization was accomplished by structural differentiation as manual labor was divided into specialized tasks. New occupations developed in all industries for managerial, professional, technical, clerical and sales employees. Even in declining industries like mining or agriculture, new kinds of white collar jobs appeared as managing information became an important part of producing goods.

Following World War II, the occupational structure of the U.S. shifted from a majority of blue collar to a majority of white collar jobs. During the process, a phenomenon called upward social mobility occurred as people gained status and income in the rapidly expanding managerial, professional, technical, clerical and sales occupations (Lipest, 1966). The social expectation that children should be more successful in their work than their parents was formed as people in industrial socieites experienced an unprecedented degree of upward mobility.

Optimistic analyses of the computer revolution focus on the promise of expanded opportunities for interesting, high status, well-paid jobs in managerial, professional and technical occupations. The dream of the computer's potential is to eliminate the drudgery of work, thus freeing people to exercise their intellectual and creative skills. Yet John Stuart Mill (a philosopher whose work was influenced by Babbage) argued about the first Industrial Revolution:

it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish (1848: 332).

As we shift to information producing occupations, there is no evidence to indicate a new period of upward social mobility in terms of income. Instead, there is some downward mobility as highly-paid manufacturing workers in the "sunset industries" lose their jobs and enter the service sector. Computers in the workplace will not automatically raise everyone's social status and rewards from work. Their effects depend on the choices made about how to design computers for work and how to reorganize work to facilitte the computer/human interface. These choices, in turn, depend very much on assumptions about what work means and how it is related to human creativity and skill.

8.1.1 The Changing Meaning of Work

Work is self-actualizing when the individual has an opportunity to express his or her sense of self through activity which contributes to the society and gives him or her a valued social status. Marx argued that people "make themselves" through work. In other words through cooperative patterns of work people create culture, which defines what it means to be human. Those who see computerized work as potentially liberating share in Durkheim's vision of organic solidarity, in which new forms of economic activity satisfy individual personalities as well as social and economic needs. Although Marx and Durkheim differ greatly in their assesments of capitalism's effects on labor both share a vision of a future society in which work is meaningful social activity for all. Some of our worst fears about computerized work are that it will increase the alienation in modern society, making our work and ourselves even more remote from any meaningful social activity.

In the Western cultural tradition, those who work with their minds (thinking, planning, and giving orders) have generally had higher social status than those who work with their hands. Manual labor less desirable form of activity than mental labor. It was sometimes even assumed that those who work with their hands were mentally or spiritually deficient. The Greek philosopher Socrates said:

What are called the mechanical arts carry a social stigma and are rightly dishonored in our cities. For those arts damage the bodies of those who work at them...This physical degeneration results also in the deterioriation of the soul. (Magdoff, 1982:7)

Mental labor, on the other hand, has been considered the highest expression of the human spirit. The philosopher Kant held that true human work was the seeking of wisdom.

The mental labor of managers and professionals has been rewarded with more income and prestige than the manual labor of common workers. Even well-paid, skilled workers in manual occupations suffer a certain social stigma. Those who have no job suffer even more because, without work, they no longer serve an important social function in a society that places its highest value on economic roles. In capitalist culture work is more than a job. It is, in the words of sociologists Richard Sennett and Johnathan Cobb, a "means toward validation of the self." (1972:75).

The cultural valuation of manual labor in this society which assigns human worth in accordance with work status is disastrous to the self-esteem of many workers. Manual laborers often view themselves as worth less than professionals who make use of their intellect, rather than their hands, on the job. Because mental labor requires education and training, it is assumed that the time professionals put in at work is worth more to society. Those who have "made it" into the professions have taken the time and effort to formally train and develop themselves. It seems natural to most people that society should reward them more highly. The unskilled manual laborer is easily replaced while the professional worker is indispensable.

Manual laborers often have little control over their won activities. Most manual laborers are not hired to think, not even about their work, which is directed from above by those believed more qualified to make decisions. The lack of input in decision-making is exactly the aspect of manual work that is most degrading. Social theorist Thorstein Veblen argued that the forms of labor which imply subservience or submission are debasing. It is degrading to take orders; and if a person's work is degrading, there are very few other arenas in which that person can gain some degree of social esteem.

8.1.2 Efficiency, Productivity, and Human Skills

Whether people's work is defined as mental or manual, computers are predicted to make them more efficient and productive. But what does efficient and productive mean? These are technical terms to an economist or engineer, but individuals often apply the ideas to their activities. For example, a student might speak of studying efficiently, or a sightseer might refer to a productive day of touring. A practice is efficient if it does not waste money, materials or time. Higher productivity is achieved when someone can produce more of something in a given period of time.

With the Industrial Revolution's division of labor, the productivity of manual labor was raised, and the production of goods was made more efficient. Bureaucratic organizations rationalized the mental labor of white collar workers. However, the productivity of managerial, professional, technical, clerical and sales workers was difficult to measure. Bureaucratic organizations are often criticized for low efficiency, and the service industries are generally less productive than the industrial sector. Efficiency. Effficiency can be defined as the maximum amount of one quantity that can be obtained from a fixed amount of another:

                            Maximum Output
    Efficiency  =                
                             Unit of Input

An efficient shopper, for example, gets the most groceries per dollar of food budget, or else spends the least time at it. An inefficient shopper doesn't bother to check for "best buys", and may may make frequent trips to the store for forgotten items.

According to the laws of physics, the energy efficiency of a machine or other system will always be less than one. The laws of entropy prevent us from getting more energy or more matter out of a process than we put into it (with the exception of nuclear fission or fusion, during which a small amount of matter is converted into a large amount of energy). Industrial production systems use and waste large amounts of energy. For example, it takes 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food in the U.S., compared to .05 calories in many Third World countries. However, U.S. agriculture is the most efficient in the world in terms of food production per man hour of farm labor.

Financial managers typically define efficiency in terms of profit per capital input. They would perform a cost-benefit analysis to see whether the capital costs of new equipment, such as computers, would increase their profits. Although 15% would be considered a good annual return on many kinds of investments, it is theoretically possible to make more than 100% return on capital inputs to business because money is not a direct measure of the energy or matter in a physical system.

The popular axiom "time is money" expresses another view of efficieny. It assumes that money is a universal medium of exhange with which the cost or value of all desired goods and goals can be measured. Time, in this view, can be assigned a monetary value beause it is a means to achieving a desired goal. The social experience of wage labor reinforces this concept of time. Each hour of a worker's time is worth a more or less standard hourly wage.

From a social point of view, however, it is often neither time nor money that we wish to maximize. When we consider efficiency, we must ask "efficient for what?". For example, a new manfacturing process which makes more profit but pollutes the environment may be efficient for the company, but not for the society which has to pay the costs of environmental cleanup and health care. When business replaces human labor with machinery, there are sometimes personal and social costs of unemployment as well as more efficient production. From the company's point of view, these social costs are external to its financial calculations because the company doesn't have to pay them. Society, however, uses a combination of incentives, laws, regulations, fines, taxes, and credits to help make these costs part of business calculations. In doing so, the society makes economic activity more socially efficient. Economists consider an economy efficient if its pricing structure distributes the greatest good to the most people. Debates about the efficiency of the free market system are about the extent to which it can do this. Productivity. Productivity is usually measured as worker output within a given period of time. Since providing a worker with more efficient tools generally increases output per hour, we can expect that the computer will raise employee productivity. This seems particularly true in the automation of offices, where the majority of workers spend most of their time handling paper and other types of information. Since the new equipment is expensive, there is no guarantee that higher productivity per worker will lead to higher profits than previously.

Many companies seek new equipment designed for operation by low-skill, low-paid workers. They assume that, for a given annual investment in equipment, lower-wage employees produce more profit than highly-paid ones. Yet worker productivity cannot be computed so simply. Employees who consider themselves underpaid, or who find their jobs boring tend to be less careful of their work and their tools. Extremely alienated information workers have been known to engage in computer sabotage. Reports one clerical worker: "I found that everywhere I worked somebody knew how to mess them [computers] up" (Goldberg, 1983:91). Also, higher paid, more skilled workers can often make better use of their tools. In surveys of workplaces, the annual output per worker is usually lower for the low-wage employees.

Another way for companies to increase productivity is to use automation to reduce the number of employees without reducing salaries for those remaining, or to expand productivity without hiring new workers. This is why we sometimes find data showing us that worker productivity and unemployment are both going up at the same time. In this case, higher productivity is a form of economic progress for companies because it leads to higher profits, but may produce costs for society in the form of unemployment. An important issue is whether new jobs are being created at the same rate that old ones are being lost.

In 1983, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics introduced a new multifactor measure of productivity that includes both labor and capital inputs. Figure 8-1 shows the rise in U.S. private business productivity between 1948 and 1982. Despite a rise in ouptut per hour after 1973, increased capital investments in workers meant that there was almost no growth in multifactor productivity. What this means is that the computer transformation of work is contributing to higher output per worker but that the new technology has not yet "paid for itself" in terms of higher output when costs are considered.


8.1.3 The Deskilling Debate

In the computer's application to work we see possible both the enhancement and the degradation of human capabilities. One important factor in the computer's effect on human skills are the beliefs of managers concerning the abilities of employees. William F. Laughlin, vice-president of IBM, claims that "people will adapt nicely to office systems if their arms are broken, and we're in the twisting stage now." (California Newsreel, New Technology: Whose Progress?). It is likely that employees confronted with that sort of management attitude will feel oppressed, devalued, and increasingly alienated from their work. This is the managerial logic of "Taylorism", which was applied to factory assembly line workers.

Frederick Taylor was an early proponent of assembly-line efficiency, and is considered a founder of the principles of scientific management. Under Taylorism, the manual laborer was viewed as a component, or manual mechanism, in the production process. Taylor divided work into jobs and tasks that required no thought, and little manual movement; even if the worker had skills, Taylor viewed the exercise of them as potentially disruptive of workplace organization. Taylorism assumed that jobs required skills, but that skill resided in the work rather than in the worker. Much of the history of industial technology emanates from the same assumption, as machinery--including robots--accomplishes a greater percentage of work tasks with a lesser degree of human intervention. Computerized work organized so that talent and control are limited has been characterized as "deskilled." (Cooley, 1980).

An alternative approach to computerized work applies the logic of the professions rather than the logic of the factory. Human capital theory, that managerial logic most commonly applied to mental work, contrasts sharply with the tenets of Taylorism. In human capital theory, it is assumed that workers bring skills to jobs. One theory suggests that a measure of job skill would have four components: 1) the number of tasks involved; 2) the time required to gain proficiency over tasks; 3) the standards--high or low--required in the completion of tasks; and 4) the extent to which the job requires decision-making in an environment of change (Spenner, 1983;826). A high-skill job would call for command over a wide range of tasks. Standards would be high, as would the amount of time required to gain proficiency. Such jobs require a full expression of an employee's training, senses, and decision-making capabilities. The "workplace commitment strategy", shown in Table 11, replaces the control and supervision assumptions of Taylorism with the assumptions that employees are skillful and responsible.

Some of the most interesting contemporary debates about the social effects of computers involve their impact on industrial work predicted by Babbage more than a century and a half ago. Analysts tend to agree that the technology is being used to create a new division of labor; they disagree over what structural form it will take and what will be the resulting types of jobs, working conditions, wages, and social statuses.

The social impact of the computer in the workplace is not a question of whether the technology can enhance employee skills, and provide healthier and more interesting jobs, or whether computerization routinizes work and transfers skills from the person to the machine. Both of these phenomena occur. The issue is whether one of these two technological possibilities predominates or whether we will have a new division of labor within computerized work as great as the older distinction between mental and manual labor.


As we look at the application of computers to mental work, whether it is the intellectual abilities of skilled blue collar workers and clerical workers or the technical skills of professionals, we see both Taylorist and human capital theory designs for work. The future conditions for such work depend on the resolution of several issues:

Table 8-2 shows the transformation of space, time, and control made possible by Babbage's analytical engine.

Table 8-2 will be passed out in class

In the process of applying computer technology to work, we tend to think of space, time, and organization in industrial terms: work is done in workplaces in linear sequences of tasks controlled by a human supervisor. However the computer can be used to organize workspaces, rather than places. People can be located anywhere that there are communications links -- the idea of workplaces can be replaced by the concept of workspaces defined by computer networks. "Where" people work will mean more than where they are physically located. It will mean what and who they are connected to.

The time sequences of work can be changed by the design of parallel processors (Silbar,1985; Tuomenoksa and Siegel, 1985). Instead of having to do one task at a time, it will be possible to perform several activities

simultaneously. For a simple example, as I'm editing this, I'm also holding virtual office hours, listening to internet radio news, and transfering files to a remote site. The tempo of work need not be paced by regular motions of a mechanical engine; it can be defined by an interactive computer interface designed to accomodate human response times and rythms.

The idea of using computer technology as a means to rationalize intellectual labor dates back at least to Leibnitz' 17th century goal of saving the labor of excellent men. While social theorists like Marx focused on the reorganization of manual labor under capitalism, the subject of rationalized intellectual labor was taken up by Max Weber and later theorists of bureaucratic organizations. Today, the automation of bureaucratically rationalized mental labor is theoretically possible, based on cybernetics and artificial intelligence. Cybernetics was itself based on the theoretical work of Willard Gibbs, whose research institute became a model for the contemporary division of labor in science.

However, because computers can accomodate multiple tasks occuring at different tempos and sequences, rationalized mental labor does not have to look like factory work. Computers can be used to coordinate work performed by geographically dispersed individuals working at their own pace without direct human supervision. The coordination of mental labor with communications and control technologies integrate individual efforts into larger human projects as easily as it could subordinate their mental activity to alienating working situations. Thus, the way in which computerized work is rationalized depends more upon who is able to define whom as "excellent men" or "anybody else" than upon purely technological possibilities.

8.2.1 Blue-Collar Robots: Automating the Labor Aristocracy

One of the clearest trends in computerized work has been the automation of the "labor aristocracy." These blue-collar workers, largely through strong unions, had managed to acquire high wages, good benefits, and "middle class" lifestyles despite their status as manual laborers. Now that industrial robots have been designed with enough "intelligence" to perform skilled manual operations, the labor process for unionized industrial workers is changing. The Management Perspective. From management's point of view, the advantages of robots are numerous. Robots are fast and dependable, their performance regular and predictable; unlike people they do not grow tired, frustrated, or bored. When production requirements change a robot need not be retrained, or even redesigned, but simply reprogrammed. The flexibility of general-purpose communications and control systems means that manufacturing equipment does not have to be designed for specific purposes that will become obsolete with every model change. (The idea that we could avoid changing models in manufacturing seems, to managers, incompatible with marketing goals).

Robots are more productive--and more profitable--than people, because they replace expensive labor with machinery. It is the jobs of the labor aristocracy which cost most to management that are targeted for automation. From a traditional industrial management's perspective, the optimal use of robots is as part of a division of labor which specifically reduces the power of workers and their unions. Ayres and Miller point out that "today's robots are usefully employed in highly-structured industrial environments where practically all of the variability and decision-making can be manufactured out of the workplace. Substantial effects on factory performance and costs require the integration of robots and other forms of factory automation into coordinated manufacturing systems." The Effects on Labor. Unlike skilled union labor, robots pay for themselves in five years and never go on strike. With automation, the skill level required in industrial work is reduced, making workers more easily replaced. This further undermines unions, since striking members can be replaced by less skilled non-union workers. The labor unions acknowledge that robots could be used to a worker's benefit. The most dangerous, dirty, and backbreaking jobs could be performed by the machinery, while the workers who oversee and operate them could be given greater control over the labor process. It has, however, been pointed out that "robots are automation, but with a difference. Other machine tools are extensions of human capabilities, while robots are seen mainly as substitutes for human workers" (Ayres and Miller, 1983). Harley Shaiken, automation expert at MIT, estimates that every robot introduced in an automobile plant replaces two workers (Boston Globe, May 1983) Where robots have been installed alongside human laborers, the robots have served to control the laborers (rather than vice versa), through speedups and electronic pacing. For each of these reasons, Shaiken asserts that "for labor to be a beneficiary of the computer age, instead of its victim, labor must help in shaping it" (Technology Review, Feb. 1980).

The robotics phenomenon could bring about both increased levels of productivity, and greater unemployment. Estimates of computer-produced unemployment rates must take into account 1) the growth rate of the economy (are new jobs being created fast enough to accomodate the displaced workers); 2) the rate of growth of the labor force (how many new workers are entering the labor market each year); and 3) the degree of displacement caused by technological change (Sadler, in Forester, 1981). Ayres and Miller predict that if fully exploited, robots could replace about four million metalworkers in the next twenty years. They maintain further that in 30 years "robots will replace almost all operative jobs in manfacturing, about 9% of today's workforce, as well as a number of skilled manfacturing jobs and routine non-manufacturing jobs." (84)

There seem to be no prospects for reversing the robotics trend. Most attention, therefore, is focused on job creation and retraining. Although David Noble predicts that "the displaced automobile worker has about as much chance getting a job building robots as the horse did of getting a job building automobiles", some displaced industrial workers view their situation as a private trouble, and anticipate a better future for their children. Whether their children's economic futures are as good as their parents were is unclear; what is clear is that few of them will follow their parents into factory jobs. Robotics in Japan. Japan--a land renowned for its productivity and worker contentment--has been under study for a number of years. In Japan, although it is next to impossible to fire, or lay off, full-time employees; robots have been used to eliminate a large part-time labor force. Thus our images of Japanese automation without labor dislocation ignores the fate of the lower strata of its labor force. A 1983 report on Nissan Motors indicates that "the psychological impact of automation is far greater than outside observers imagine." (Wall Street Journal, February 28). Nissan's workers are not experiencing the stress of potential job loss, but of the technology itself. The new robots have caused substantial displacement within the plant; workers are transferred out of their old jobs (a strain in itself) and transferred often (even more of a strain). Those who spend an entire day in the company of machines commonly complain of loneliness. The psychological stress is greatest, however, for older workers, who have worked long enough to have earned respect and honor for their skills, but who are instead faced daily with the fact of their obsolescence. In America, where companies do have the power to lay off workers, feelings of worthlessness may become more widespread.

Research on the changing skills and tasks in automated Japanese factories support arguments that it is skill change rather than deskilling which occurs. 24% of the 10,000 companies surveyed by the Japanese Ministery of Labor required new job skills after automation. Only 14% reported that less skilled workers could now manage the tasks. But 68% reported a shift in skills, generally from simple, repetitive, physically taxing or dangerous activities to more jobs maintaining and overseeing equipment. Only 18% reported an increase in simple,repetitive tasks (Bednarzik, 1985).

8.2.2 Office Automation: Job Enhancement or Information Factories?

For secretaries and clerical workers in the mostly female "pink collar" world of office work, computers are both eliminating drudgery and creating factory-like working conditions. Like those jobs occupied by the labor aristocracy, office jobs had escaped many of the rationalizing effects of the First Industrial Revolution. In the past, the drive toward efficiency and productivity was hindered by sociability in the office. Labor theorist Braverman observes that office automation represents the "squeezing out of the minutes and hours of labor time lost in the personal relations and contacts among secretaries and between secretaries and their 'principals'" (Forester, 1982:276).

Productivity has become an issue of major importance for office managers. Reports Serrin in The New York Times: "it has become clear to business that office productivity was lagging significantly and that vast productivity improvements in office work must be achieved if profit levels were to be achieved and office costs, rising at 15% a year, reduced". (March 28, 1984:11-16). Moreover, since the machinery is expensive, it will become more important for these corporations to optimize the use of the equipment, even when such optimization threatens a worker's well-being.

The information-age office is often arranged like a factory assembly line, with fragmented tasks and increasing distance between the clerical worker and the finished product. Some word processors never see what they have typed except on the VDT screen, because the printer is located elsewhere. Although word processor operators now make higher wages than most typists; as the equipment becomes easier to operate and the skill becomes more widespread, wages can be expected to fall. The ease of correcting text with a word processor reduces the demand for accurate typists and generates lower paid jobs for their less-skilled replacements.

In its initial stage, automation creates a need both for more jobs and greater skills in those jobs. Once the machinery is in place, however, office (and other) work becomes automated to the point where jobs can be eliminated and deskilled. In one estimation, each word processing machine is equal to between one and five typists (Reinecke, 1982;142). It is not surprising that the most routinized of office jobs are characterized by high turnover, or that the skills required for the lowest level jobs are so nominal that clerks can be trained in a matter of weeks, or even that routinization has depressed wages.

But office automation can benefit employees. Word processors are a boon in firms where documents are frequently retyped. Reports one legal secretary of word processors: "these are truly marvelous features. In fact, I wouldn't do without them now that I have them; they make my working life so much richer and more fun." (Cassidy and Nessbaum, 1983;9) Computers are having a similar effect in banking. Claims one bank teller: "Now that we have the ATM [automatic teller machine], many of the routine transactions are handled by the machine. I spend a great deal more of my time on the judgement calls...and it has definitely made my job more challenging" (1984, ASPA; 15). Charles A. Jortberg, an office automation consultant, points out that the automated equipment "makes much more efficient use of the current labor force. It gives more satisfaction to people who work in the electronic office, except for some poor person who has to sit in front of a ... [video display terminal] all day" (in The New York Times, March 28, 1984:16). In an office studied by my students, work was rearranged so that all the boring tasks were collected into one job for a word processor operator. Everyone, with one exception, reported that the quality of their working lives had improved. The effects of office automation vary more according to the status of employees and the design of their tasks that by the design of word processor technology. Levels of stress, and of job satisfaction, vary according to these same factors.

8.2.3 Telecommuting in the Global Factory: A New Distribution of Labor

Telecommuting is an arrangement of work in which employees are geographically scattered. Instead of a centralized factory or office with face-to-face supervision of their specialized tasks, coordination and control functions are performed via computer network. The analysis of telecommuting is often restricted to the relatively few people who work in the United States from their homes via personal computer. According to estimates by the International Research Development Corporations, only about 10,000 people did that in 1984, compared to about 10,000,000 Americans who work in their homes without computers (Olson, 1984:184). Although the Department of Labor predicts that "telecommuters" will number 10 million by 1990, and 13 million by the end of the century, electronic cottages are not the most significant part of the new distribution of labor. The Global Factory. Most telecommuting arrangements are not between offices and individuals but between companies and their geographically dispersed subsidiaries, suppliers, and subcontractors. In 1970, I worked as a systems engineer in Taiwan, installing a new computer for a Chinese company which supplied keypunch operator services to American firms. The keypunch operators sat at rows of card punch machines. A timeclock kept track of their hours, their keystrokes per hour were recorded, and the keypunch verifier operators reported on error rates. Today on the Carribean island of Barbados, women earn a dollar-fifty an hour, a wage which represents the bottom of the pay scale for that country, to process data for American companies. Within the United States, banks and credit card companies have moved their clerical operations to states where wages are low, the demand for work is high, and banking regulations are most favorable. Distributing work to remote sites keeps the division of labor of the factory, but scatters the pieces of the factory around the globe. As we saw in Chapter 6, the microelectronics and computer industries distribute their manufacturing operations to countries where wages for manual labor are low. Using electronic data communications, clerical work can also be distributed internationally. The Individual Telecommuter: Entrepeneur, Employee, or Pieceworker? Alvin Toffler imagines telecommuting putting an end to worker alienation because:

If the individual came to own their own electronic terminals and equipment, purchased perhaps on credit, they would become, in effect, independent entrepreneurs rather than classical employees--meaning, as it were, increased ownership of the "means of production" by the worker. (1980:205)

Redefining employees as entrepeneurs can be profitable. Corporations save on office space and equipment, travel expenses, and--in some cases-- employee fringe benefits and health provisions. Says Theron Bradley, a personnel executive at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, "We locate...offices in areas of high labor demand so that we don't have to outbid everybody else's wages...Everytime we open an office we are swamped with applications (Kuttner, 198 )." Blue Cross/Blue Shield is a leader in the trend toward "suburbanization" of jobs. In suburbanization, formerly full-time jobs are retitled and relocated outside the city. The virtually all-female staffs work in two shifts of 30 hours a week each. Because they are technically not full-time, the workers receive no benefits--not even health care benefits (In These Times, May 24-30, 1984).

The U.S. Internal Revenue service disagrees. They have ruled privately (no specific case involved) that home clerical workers are employees for whom Social Security taxes must be paid, saying: "There is no evidence that such computers are not as ubiquitous as typewriters now commonly provided by employers (Wall Street Journal, January 16, 1985:1)."

With highly motivated employees, work-at-home arrangements can boost productivity (Olson, 1983:205). For employees, telecommuting is a two- class phenomenon: that for the priveliged professional, telecommunication offers the chance of working at home under one's own direction and pace. Jack Nilles, Director of Information Programs at USC, points out that the "ideal telecommuter has to be autonomous, self-disciplined, and inner- directed." By contrast, the traditional worker "needs extra prodding all the time".

Piecework is an old industrial solution to the problem of worker motivation. Payment by the piece, rather than by the hour, ensures a disciplined, hard-working labor force. The piecework system was used in pre-industrial manufacturing -- with spinning or weaving put out to the workers' cottages. It also occurred in the early office -- where copy work was distributed to clerks who worked at home and were paid by the word -- and in sewing by the piece, in which the working-class woman was paid extremely low wages which nonetheless helped support her family and pay for her sewing machine. Under the piecework system, the electronic cottage becomes an "electronic sweatshop", in which a worker can earn as little as $100 per 50-hour work week after equipment rental charges and other deductions (Mattera, 1983).


Developments in knowledge engineering offer the technical means to rationalize managerial, professional, and technical occupations, by dividing their work in ways that allow part of it to be done or be managed by computers. In theory, knowledge engineering subjects mental labor is to both the rationalization of its knowledge and the gradual automation of its productive activity. Technical, professional and managerial work all involve the exercise of expert knowledge. Professional and managerial jobs also involve autonomous professional judgments based upon experience. Managerial activity in addition includes the evaluation and control of the work of others. The argument that these mental activities can be routinized requires us to accept claims that computers can perform as technical experts, can acquire a kind of judgment based upon general principles and experience, and can make managerial decisions. These are precisely the claims of knowledge engineers.

Knowledge engineering includes efforts to organize intellectual activity into a set of computer-coordinated tasks by means of data management and decision support systems (Hayes-Roth, 1984). It also includes attempts to mechanize actual decision-making and knowledge production activities using expert systems and other types of artificial intelligence software (Coombs, 1984; Winston and Pendergast, 1984). While there is too little evidence to judge the effects of knowledge engineering in management or most professions, the computer software industry is a good case in which to observe its effects on technical skill.

8.3.1 The Transformation of Technical Skill: Rationalization and Mechanization in Software Production

In its short history computer programming has been transformed from a manual labor task of wiring boards (performed by women clerical workers) to a romanticized craft popularly believed to be one of the major sources of future high-tech employment. In reality, software production is being rapidly rationalized into routine work (Kraft, 1977; Kraft and Dubnoff, 1983). The word "computer" first described the jobs of women who performed calculations and wired hardware for the pioneering ENIAC, and only later meant the machines that replaced them. The manual and routine mental work of the women was taken over by machines; the creative component was transferred to male mathematicians who became known as programmers. In this process both skill enhancement and deskilling occurred as the intellectual work was differentiated into design and execution tasks. The design phase was redefined as creative work, the routinized mental labor was devalued in symbolic and monetary terms and viewed as the appropriate target for automation.

Technological developments in software production, from the compilers of the 1950's to contemporary structured programming, relational data bases, application generators, and expert systems have all been applied to the routinization of programming even though most were introduced to spare humans from mental drudgery. In 1958, Commander Grace Murray Hopper reported two consequences of her recently invented compiler. First, U.S. Naval officers found to their satisfaction that the new computer techniques gave project managers better control over the activities of programmers. Second, experiments indicated that a new division of labor in programming, with highly skilled systems analysts producing flowcharts and clerically trained high school graduates producing code was the optimal way to use the new techniques. Although programmers were at first opposed the change for fear of losing their jobs, the new division of labor provided upward mobility for the original programmers while creating new low level jobs for the coders (Hopper, 1959). Analyses of software production in the 1960's and 1970's documented the emergence of a hierarchial division of labor similar to those of blue collar industries (Kraft, 1977; Kraft and Dubnoff, 1983).

Today, structured programming and its extensions offer new control mechanisms at a time when data security from high-tech crimes is of growing concern to economic institutions. It offers a way to replace temperamental programmer-craftsmen with better disciplined, less expensive, and better organized technical laborers. It also promises firms a 10% to 20% increase in program productivity (McClure, 1981), although there was by 1984 no good empirical research supporting these claims (Vessey and Weber, 1984).Structured programming began with a 1967 paper by the Dutch computer scientist Edgar Dijkstra, a man who may become known as the Henry Ford of computer programming. He offered an elegant mathematical approach to the problem of computer program complexity and thus the hope of "bug-free" software (Olson, 1984). Structured programming rationalizes the process of software design and coding. Easily supervised individual programmers can then be set to making small parts of large software systems.

Structured programs are easy to understand, fix, modify and (most importantly for routinization purposes) to divide up into separate parts. Structured programmers can be given well-defined tasks making the software equivalent of interchangeable parts. According to the software engineer Frederick Brooks, Jr., the major impact of structured programming has been to introduce the concept of "control structures" into program design (1982:144). But such control structures also have the effect of controlling programmers. Relational Data Base Architecture (see Inset 1 in Chapter 1) is an extension of the concept of control structures to data base design. Using it, data can be accessed by people who are not allowed to alter it. This introduces a number of technical improvements in data security and task coordination. But it can also be used to structure the working conditions of programmers in ways which restrict the scope of their activity to well-defined tasks. Structured programming specifications can be so rigid that in some cases computer programs are used to edit the work to remove any non-standard lines of code. This routinization facilitates the second phase of the deskilling process--mechanization, as realized through the use of expert systems.

When combined with research on programmer knowledge (cf. Soloway and Ehrlich, 1984), structured programming techniques can be used in application generators. While application generators are not, strictly speaking, expert systems, they do enough "reasoning" to enable a relatively inexperienced programmer to produce software (Keller and Townsend, 1984). In a recent survey of one small company (50 programmers) which converted to application generators, productivity did increase markedly over a five year period while real wages fell. Younger programmers were enthusiastic about them, reporting that their skills were enhanced. More experienced programmers, however, reported being "deskilled" (Guttman, 1984).

Many artificial intelligence experts believe that software production will soon be largely performed by expert systems (Wenger,1984; Frenkel, 1985). According to Stanford University's Bruce Buchanan (Shurkin, 1983:77), a major problem in software production is caused by the time it takes programmers to convert the acquired knowledge into programs. Implementation of "knowledge acquisition" systems connect the expert directly with the computer and save all that programmer labor. Programmer labor, however, is a significant part of those expanding high-tech jobs which proponents of the information revolution are promising.

8.3.2 Expert Systems in the Professions

Expert systems are "intelligent programs" that can play chess, infer chemical structures from molecular data, and diagnose illnesses; they can make decisions, learn from their mistakes and experience, and make some adaptations to the environment. Although business analysts report that "most of today's expert systems are limited in scope and quite costly (Alexander, 1984:118)," specialists within the computer industry (Hayes- Roth, 1983; d'Agapegoff, 1984; Basden, 1984) predict a steady growth in the replacement of humans with expert systems in narrowly defined areas of expertise. About a quarter of the "serious" expert systems in use in 1984 were in the professions, as shown in Table 8-4.



Based on data from Johnson, The Commercial Application of Expert Systems Technology. London, Ovum, 1984.

Their creators saw expert systems as a software tool to liberate professionals from the drudgery of routine mental labor. In 1983, Edward Feigenbaum argued:

In the face of large amounts of data we quail: we are unsystematic and forgetful, grow bored, get distracted...we should give ourselves credit for having the intelligence to recognize our limitations and for inventing a technology to compensate for them. (cited in Shurkin, 1983;78)

The design of expert systems presupposes that there are human experts to be consulted. But in their implementation they use expert knowledge so that people with much lower skills can achieve the same results. An emphasis on "user-friendliness" understood as the making of increasingly complex computer programs designed for "idiots" may develop expert systems that can replace highly skilled people by adequately-trained ones. Even for experienced professionals, the mental labor saved by expert systems might be subjected to heavy pressures for higher productivity, rather than freed for more creative intellectual activity.

Because knowledge engineering is a capital intensive effort to relocate knowledge from human experts to machines, some knowledge engineers have begun to identify their potential for automating professional work as a problem. As Feigenbaum said in a 1984 lecture: "Everyone worries about the fate of the blue-collar's the highly paid professionals we ought to start worrying about." The Case of Medicine. At a 1958 international artificial intelligence conference, physician Francois Paycha outlined the logic of medical diagnosis and argued that mechanization could solve some of its difficulties. Although Paycha suggested that we could not anticipate the wider social consequences of mechanized medical diagnosis, another panalist echoed Leibnitz' belief that the labor of excellent men would be saved for devotion "to research proper, to true scientific thought". In the next decades, medical knowledge became the subject of intensive effforts to develop intelligent data bases and software (Magraw and Magraw, 1967). But the various intelligent medical diagnosis programs do not seem a serious threat to physicians as they would be to a less powerful profession.

Expert systems in the medical profession do seem to be emerging as aids for experts. Some skills, like using a scalpel, may be lost to laser surgery (Freifeld, 1984). New techniques such as computer-animated x-rays, will give physicians more skill in diagnosing patients (Science86, March:10). But the serious threats to the status of doctors are the instituional pressures from hospital administrations and health care insurers (Anderson and Jay, 1985). Many government officials and health care professionals would like to rationalize the mental labor of physicians, but no one has seriously suggested automating them in the near future. This is despite the opinion among knowledge engineers that medical diagnosis is a relatively straightforward problem. In the long run the impacts of computer technology on physicians may be as dramatic as the telephone and automobile's contributions to shifting health care out of doctor's offices into hospitals (Starr, 1983). But instead of becoming automated, physicians may use computer-based communications networks to move health care back out of the hospitals. Expert Systems in Engineering. The entrance of expert systems into less powerful professions such as engineering seems more likely to subject mental labor to rationalization and control. Spokesmen for professional engineering have warned for decades that professional status is reduced by change that threatens expert knowledge:

The engineer who at one time was the educated and elite leader in matching science to society is fast becoming just another member in the industrial labor force (Forrester, 1967).

A review of the effects of computers on creativity in chemical engineering education (Drake and Perrolle, 1984) suggests that the employment of less expensive and more narrowly trained technical people may exacerbate the problem of obsolescence for more experienced engineers. In addition it appeared that the mental labor saved by the use of expert systems may be subjected to heavy pressures for higher productivity rather than freed for more interesting types of work. In actual implementations, however, replacing experienced professionals by software and less-skilled employees sometimes prove unsatisfactory, even when initially chosen by management (Cass, 1985; Perrolle, et. al., 1985). Engineering problem-solving often calls for broader understandings and more flexible thinking than can be embodied in even an intelligent program. In the hands of experts, expert systems can save the labor of excellent people, as in Digital Equipment Corporation found in an experiment using software tools to speed up and improve chip design (Bairstow, 1985).


If computers can be applied to work in social ways, they are a means of integrating the fragmented structures of the Industrial Revolution. Instead of mental work becoming more like factory work, factory work could be nearly abolished. Though job dislocations would occur no matter how smooth the transition to the Information Society, new jobs may be created rapidly enough to absorb displaced labor and retrain the displaced workers with new skills. If computer interfaces are designed for social relationships of work, the new division of labor would involve creative, decision-making roles for most workers. Yet for this to happen, the people who make decisions about how work is to be organized will have to choose designs that explore the possibilities of the analytic engine -- not continue to build and buy computer models of factory work. Whether they will or not is a question of economic power and interests. The social consequences of computer applications to work do not depend so much on the technology itself as they do on the assumptions and actions of the implementers.

Those who believe even expert systems will enhance mental work assume that what is most creative in mental work is uniquely human, and can never be automated. Routine thought processes that are amenable to mechanization are considered part of the drudgery of work -- more like the old kinds of manual labor. Indeed, when routine mental work is automated it can become manual labor the way supermarket checkout has moved away from a computational to a physical task. The optimization of highly skilled human capital is believed to be the appropriate managerial strategy for dealing with creative mental labor. But what about routine thinking? Under this set of assumptions, we would expect to find knowledge engineering applications that did not reduce the incomes, autonomy, or skill of our "best" thinkers. But how will we recognize what creative thinking really is? We could decide that anything a machine can do well (like play chess) isn't that creative. Or we could look around and see who (like teachers) is no longer being well-paid to work with their minds. Theorists who believe that our evaluations of one another's statuses tend to follow changes in peoples' economic circumstances would say that the kinds of mental labor that lose out in the economy will lose out in status. In other words we will devalue some forms of mental labor as we now devalue manual labor. They would also say that the structural consequences of such a devaluation will be to reduce the size, status, and power of the white collar middle class occupations (Abercrombie and Urry, 1983; Goldthorpe, 1982). And the immediate consequences for those in factory-style computer interfaces would be alienation, not creativity.

8.4.1 Alienation and Automation

The root of the word "alienation" means "to separate from." In legal terms, a person is alienated from land which he or she sells, and alienated from a spouse whom he or she divorces. In its psychological sense, "alienation" implies isolation from other people, and from one's surroundings. Marx argued that, under factory conditions, people became alienated from the process of their work, from the products of their work, from their social relationships with one another and from their own creative powers. In current usage, "alienation" often refers to the psychological experience lost control and/or autonomy in one's job. The Process of Work. Computerization alienates people from the process of their work when the work becomes so fragmented or repetitive that it ceases to have any meaning. In large insurance companies, for example, clerks who once did nothing but process claims all day are now processing a single portion of a claim--a task which requires only the pressing of the same few keys--all day. (The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 1983). They were already alienated from the process of providing financial reimbursement to the ill and injured, with factory-style computerization they even lost sight of the "whole" claim transaction.

But when automation occurs, workers can experience the ultimate alienation from the labor process -- loss of a job. Yet some observers would argue that it is humanitarian as well as productive to use Optical Character Readers, which can sort 36,000 letters in an hour, to replace human sorters whose job is to:

scan the first three numbers of the zipcode and hit the corresponding buttons on the keyboard and the envelopes are automatically sorted to the right post office. The job is so boring that operators work in shifts and listen to music piped in through earphones. Their top speed is 60 letters a minute. After that, they begin to wobble. Automation via the OCR was the next step to pushing productivity (James V. Healion, UPI). The Products of Work. Computers can distance people from the products they make in more ways than because they belong to the employer. As more and more tasks are performed on information about the world rather than on objects in the world, people lose touch with what they are making. People whose job is controlling machines are often providing a service rather than making a product, but even they can be distanced from the physical reality of what they are doing. Automation in the air lines, for example, poses this problem for both pilots and air traffic controllers. The pilot's job now involves more monitoring of machines than actual flying. There is danger in this, warns an executive of Delta Airlines: that of "psychological atrophy", a machine-induced complacency that dulls a pilot's response in times of emergency (Newsweek, Jan. 30, 1984). The same holds true for air-traffic controllers. According to a study by the Rand Institute, the computerized coordination of air traffic is "likely to dull a controller's:

interest in his job, cause his attention to wander, even cause his skills to degrade over time--and very possibly render him incapable of intervening in emergencies caused by some system failure or by the sheer complexity of a situation that the system is not programmed to handle (Rand Checklist, Jan. 1982). The Social Relationships of Work. In addition to this removal from the real world, the computerized workplace and its tasks can be structured so that workers are removed from interaction with one another. One automated claims processer for a large insurance firm says that the worst thing about her job is the isolation:

Virtually all communication is between the clerk and the machine. Since pay is based on output and the job itself requires no human interaction, there is every incentive to keep social conversation to a minimum..."Last Christmas they organized a little office party. They had a 'Christmas Grab' where everybody picks a name out of a hat. You bring in a little gift for somebody and they bring one in for you. We realized that nobody knew anybody else's name." (Kuttner, 1983)

Yet isolation is not something which is "built into" computerized equipment. Indeed, the exact opposite may be the case in social and organizational interfaces. Alienation from Oneself. One telephone operator, who "likes" his job, describes the work:

As the voices come into my mind, I just freeze the information in one part of my brain and hold it there. Then I pull it out whenever I need it. This allows me to distance myself from my work and ignore the fact that the callers treat me like a rock. Who I am and what I do don't meet. My identity is separate from my job...I'm on automatic (Singular, 1983). But There are Choices. While it may be argued that telephone operation is hardly creative work, the choices made in implementing computer technology have made it even less so. A survey of the job field finds:

The computerized system, which has eliminated local phone offices by centralizing work locations, channels calls to the operators, predicts future call flows, computes and catalogs each operator's average time spent per call, and even schedules work breaks. Because the computer schedules virtually no pause between incoming calls--which have doubled or in some locations even tripled in number to between 80 and 120 calls per operator per hour--operators are closely confined to the equipment, causing undue mental and physical fatique. Considering the fact that operators must now respond to customers with scripted phrases and sentences, technological change has devastated their work. (Straw and Foged, the Annals, Nov., 1983)

Yet this need not have been the case, not even within the dictates of productivity. Labor sociologist Heidi Gottfried points out that the telephone company could have installed magnetic writing pads instead, but that despite "the comparable performance and the insufficient time allowed to test cost- efficiency of the pads, it seems clear that the computer was adopted for its ability to monitor and control the workday of the operator" (in Science for the People, July/August, 1982:20).

At every job level, from aerospace design engineers (Cooley, 1980) to office clerks come complaints of alienation. It is unfortunate that a general purpose tool for communication and control should be used so often for control without communication. Several business analysts believe that the Information Revolution will bring about a radically different set of corporate arrangements and values. Norman Macrae, the deputy editor of Britain's business magazine The Economist, argues that the new economy will be dominated by "small businesses that are more adaptable to local markets, more attuned to sophisticated consumer needs, and to the growing hunger, among employees, for greater challenge and rewards (In Context, Spring, 1983:41-43)." He thinks that work teams will be adopted by many companies. Workers will have more and better training, and thus more authority and responsibility. The teams would be "semi-autonomous", meaning that they would be given all the information, resources, skills, authority and decision-making power needed to accomplish their function, or tasks." Needless to say, a community interface would facilitate the work of these teams. The Decline in Work as A Source of Satisfaction. From a non-Marxist perspective, it could be argued that worker alienation is not a major social problem in the computer revolution. Status, relations with co- workers, a sense of challenge, and having a "nice place to work" can be substitutes, according to some experts, for actual control over work. The status associated with being a professional has been one of the attractions of computerized work. As a result of the computer revolution, more people than before have access to the symbols of professional status. The professional's education, lifestyle, and income are what our society teaches each of us to strive for--though society also teaches that not each of us has the inherent capacity (i.e., the talent) for professionalism. The idea of a career instead of a job implies that the worker is educated, intelligent, dedicated to some ideal of service, and more competent and motivated than the person who just works for money. Unionized garbage collectors and truck drivers earn more money than many information workers, but enjoy less status. Thus, while information work itself may be alienating, social life in private and public may be enhanced. This would be especially if people think of their social life as occurring separately from their work life, and if they seek their satisfaction from leisure.

Also if the focus of job satisfaction turns away from the actual work, and toward symbolic gestures of status, "having a nice place to work" may come to mean the ability to manipulate images rather than to control work. In the computer field, job titles contain the words "manager", "designer", and "analyst" with little correspondence to actual working conditions. Even computer equipment repairers (who often replace parts with little understanding of how the machine works) wear business suits and carry their tools in a briefcase. In a culture concerned with self and status,the very meaning of work is changing.

8.4.2 Stratification and Social Change

As highly-paid blue-collar workers lose their jobs, many pink collar workers are pressed into less desirable forms of work, and even skilled white collar workers may find themselves downwardly mobile, we are experiencing a massive dislocation in our economic structures. And there are signs that the change will no leave us with as large a middle class as we had before. First, it is people already at the bottom of the occupational ladder who will suffer the brunt of unemployment and declining wages and benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the fastest-growing industries are earning $5000 a year less than workers in "decaying" industries. The baby boom is less affluent than their parents were at their age. It will also make the job market highly competitive to the end of the century. Where are the Jobs Going to Be? Most new job opportunities will not be in the fields of most rapid growth (computer service technician, legal assistant, computer systems analyst, computer programmer and operator, office machine repairer, physical therapy assistant, electrical engineer, civil engineering technician, and peripheral EDP equipment operator). This is because these fields are small to start with. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, high-tech industries will provide only 6% of new jobs in the next decade (Robey and Russell, 1984). Nor will they be in the offices of banks and insurance companies; these are going the way of the automobile assembly line jobs. Most jobs will be in slower growing but much larger fields such as custodians, cashiers, secretaries, general office clerks, sales clerks, registered nurses, waiters, elementary-school teachers, truck drivers, nursing aides and orderlies. (Robey and Russell, American Demographics, Mar. 1984). When looking for a job, it is more important to find how many openings are available, not just whether there are more this year than last. Social Equity and Occupational Change in the "High-Tech" Industries. In Massachusetts, where high-tech is a leading new employer, the inequalities between male and female workers are greater than they are in traditional industries. In 1984 the Boston Globe reported that seven out of ten women who work in high-tech have low-paying clerical and machine- operator jobs; only about one in ten are managers or professionals and only one in a hundred were in marketing. Their pay, 55 cents for every dollar earned in high-tech industries by a man, was less than the 57 cent to the dollar in mature industries like textiles or the 64 cents to the dollar national average for women working full time in all industries.

Nationally, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that, as they have in the last five years, women in computer professions earned almost 22% less in 1984 than did their male counterparts in the same jobs. This is a better situation for women than the national average; median income for women in all jobs 1984 was 35% less than that for men (Computerworld, Feb. 11, 1985:1).

In a study of the software industry (1983), sociologists Kraft and Dubnoff (1983) were interested in measuring racial, as well as sexual equality. But there were no black programmers to be studied in their sample of over 500 professionals. They found that women start at slightly higher salaries than men, but run into career dead-ends earlier. Women tend to be applications programmers, documentation specialists, and customer support personnel (the high-tech version of skilled clerical work). Where women are managers, they almost always manage other women. Upper-level programmer management is virtually all-male. The highest- salary female manager in the sample earned less than the worst-paid male manager. The researchers found also that positions for middle-level managers are being eliminated, and that there are emerging divisions between analytic and routine work, between work that involves decision- making responsibility and work in which most decisions are made by someone else. Whatever combination of cultural and other factors keep women and minorities from high status careers in software production, the industry cannot be considered an example of high-tech opportunity for all. The Devaluation of Mental Labor. The spread of knowledge engineering will devalue some kinds of mental labor in both an economic and a cultural sense, regardless of the outcome of the deskilling debate. In the economic sense, professional, technical, and managerial employees who do the kind of thinking that machines do (or that inexpensive labor do with machines) will see a relative reduction in their wages and salaries unless they can acquire new tasks or protect their existing areas of expertise from automation. The implications of this are that the "knowledge elite" predicted by Daniel Bell (1980) is likely to be much smaller than usually predicted. Also, rather than being composed of our most creative thinkers, it is likely to be composed of those who have most successfully kept their knowledge to themselves.

As knowledge engineering rationalizes and automates some areas of mental labor, those who are less successful at finding creative new activities may turn the focus of job satisfaction from concerns about real control over the labor process to symbolic gestures of social standing. Already the terminology of computer technology defines workers subjected to the control of management systems to be computer "users." Job titles contain the words "manager," "designer," and "analyst" with little correspondence to actual working conditions. Even computer equipment repairers (who often replace parts with little understanding of how the machinery works) wear business suits and carry their tools in a briefcase. A growing concern among the middle class for what Randall Collins (1979:72) calls a consciousness of formalism "directed away from the material realities of work experience and into the purely relative values of cultural currency" is occurring. In a culture concerned with self and status, the very meaning of work is changing. What one does in an instrumental sense is being replaced by what one displays in terms of symbolic status. So long as the illusion that employees in information factories are managing a system which enhances their intellectual skills is maintained, the symbolic token may be satisfactory. However, the contradiction in this arrangement is that if the computer software devalues labor in economic terms, and it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion. In the long run, capitalist culture may teach that intellectual skills are not a source of human satisfaction; in the short run it is predicted to experience a crisis of distribution (Leontiff, 1980) as downwardly mobile white-collar workers demand the material rewards "due" their middle-class status.

The mechanization of thought processes may also be translated into a cultural devaluation of the rational, logical aspects of human knowledge and intelligence. Turkel found young children exposed to computerized toys stressing "feelings" rather than "thinking" as the defining criteria of being alive and human. Critics of artificial intelligence and humanist critics of the social injustices of Western technological society (cf. Capra, 1982) tend to agree in condemning instrumental rationality as a form of tyranny over the human spirit. This combination of assertions that the essence of human thought is "what machines can't do" and that it is feelings rather than logic which make humans human, somewhat paradoxically helps to legitimate turning instrumental decision-making processes over to expert systems programs. The machines are only behaving in coldly instrumental ways which are not true expressions of our humanity. Unfortunately, instrumental decision-making is at the heart of democratic political institutions. A devaluation of decision-making logic may render the democratic process even more concerned with emotional symbols of group solidarity and less concerned with rational discussions of issues than it already is.

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