New York Review of Books || The Programmed Prospect Before Us:
Robert Skidelsky reviews ‘Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans’ by Simon Head:
“Scientific management” is Simon Head’s point of entry—and protest—in his fine book. Head is a journalist turned academic who has specialized in writing about the social impact of technology. In The New Ruthless Economy (2003), he analyzed the practice of call centers, showing how digitalized scripts required of their operators robot-like behavior. In his latest book he claims that computer programming is now applied to all the principal sectors of the manufacturing and service economy.The upshot is that networked computers, with monitoring software attached, have hugely expanded “the power to manage the affairs of giant global corporations and…micromanage the work of their single employees or teams of employees.” Their possibilities have spawned “Computer Business Systems” (CBS) which have colonized much of the service sector.The tendency of CBS, Head argues, is to discourage intuition and judgment in a large population, except for a tiny class of highly paid engineers and managers, who are needed to activate and control the automated systems. What Head calls “digital managerialism” achieves this by transforming the objects of management into “electronic representations” of human beings, “the numbers, coded words, cones, squares, and triangles that represent us on [the] digital screens [of managers].” Such electronic representations have been applied increasingly to middle management, who, deprived of their traditional oversight functions, are themselves subject to the intrusive monitoring of time and performance they had exercised over their subordinates.
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Of course it is not just ‘work’ which digital Taylorism applies to rather the internet of things and wearable computing seeks to apply it to every area of our lives.