Let them have fun! Workplace surveillance from Robert Owen's silent monitor to full-spectrum real-time human-capital quantification

Little, Richard (2018) Let them have fun! Workplace surveillance from Robert Owen's silent monitor to full-spectrum real-time human-capital quantification. In: IFLAS / Brantwood Trust seminar, 24 May 2018, Brantwood, Coniston, UK. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Let them have fun! – but it’s no joke for growing numbers of otherwise-privileged white-collar employees whose every breath, word and key-stroke is recorded by wearable ‘multivariate predictive analytics’ like the Humanyze Badge and transmitted straight to managers. In Unto This Last, Ruskin wrote that political economy, ‘… assuming, not that the human being has no skeleton, but that it is all skeleton … founds an ossifiant theory of progress on this negation of a soul’. The designers of contemporary work organisations go further in their assumptions. For them, human beings not of the managerial class have neither soul nor rights nor dignity unless, in an ersatz form, those things somehow improve profitability. The story of how we came to this terrifying pass shows how well-intentioned people accidentally turned concern for the well-being of the worker into the technology of corporate surveillance. Of course, it is not confined to employees: just about everyone is what Facebook has called ‘livestock’ for digital exploitation. In this talk, I look at the spine-chillingly and accidentally hilarious manifestations of work-place surveillance and ask if, so far from being the idiot fantasies of Silicon Valley geeks, such technologies writ large might be a threat to democracy and common humanity. … [to make] sure you’re getting the best possible returns from your … human capital investments, you should be concerned about the aging curves of your marketing people; you should want to know if your tech support folks will deliver better outcomes tomorrow than today; you should be predicting which sales teams will procure the most lucrative contracts with the minimum risks. (HBR, 2013).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Departments: Business, Law, Policing & Social Sciences (BLPSS)
Additional Information: A talk by Richard Little, FRGS, FCIPD, Visiting Professor of Leadership for Sustainability, University of Cumbria, UK.
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 25 May 2018 10:33
Last Modified: 26 May 2018 18:02
URI: http://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/3857

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