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BLOG: Technologies of freedom - A sales pitch

Anushkar Mohinani | May 6, 2011
Social repercussions of technology include the intensification of labour.

Society has perpetually been fervent over the possibilities of technology ‘freeing us’ - from the electric light bulb to computers, technological products are positioned as facilitating empowerment and freedom of activities. Today, communications technology promises to meet and satisfy the clamour for more independence and leisure. Much has been said about the new forms of freedom related to the 24x7 nature of mobile technologies.

However, arguably, the same technologies harbour the opposite condition of enslavement. And I think this condition is increasingly manifested as technology becomes an omnipresent part of society. This is most pronounced nowadays as individuals are incorporating mobile technologies into their daily lives and wanting to connect them to corporate IT infrastructures.

I recently came across a comic strip cut-out (originally from The Globe and Mail) that astutely points out to this mobility paradox. The main comic character working via his smartphone while simultaneously dining with his partner says:  “It makes wherever I am my virtual office.”

The ‘always’ on nature of mobile technology is blurring the distinctions between employees’ working lives and personal lives. In this sense, work becomes a potential ongoing activity. The utopian association of liberty with mobility is contradicted with the extended work hours it perpetuates. 

Lately, several people I know have questioned why the corporations they are employed in have not yet granted workers the complete “freedom” to work from anywhere. In this age of mobility, they don’t want to be “confined” within the spaces of their office. Yet these people strive for work-life-balance and despair because their lives have become a frenzy of multi-tasking and ‘finding time’.

Bureaucratic control

A research study published in the Information Systems Management journal revealed conflicting consequences of mobile technology consumption. Conducted by Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa and Karl R. Lang, the study comprised 222 urban mobile device users in four highly developed countries (Japan, Hong Kong, Finland and the United States) with high penetration of mobile devices.
 
According to Jarvenpaa and Lang, most professionals welcomed the introduction of mobile technologies and appreciated the increased productivity, more flexibility, and more efficient ways to coordinate tasks. However they cited “less personal time” and the inability to separate and keep distance from work.Furthermore, the participants cited closer monitoring and supervision as well as increased work pressure.

One of the professionals in the study said: “In our business, schedules are pretty tight. If you are on your vacation and your project is not done…this is not something you are able to do anymore. Whenever I am about to take a vacation, my boss tells me to keep my cell phone on. To me this is not a vacation at all.”

Another one said: “...it makes me feel like I should be working more than I am.”

Based on this, the consumption of mobile technology can thus be criticised as perpetuating an organisational culture in which employees have little freedom and individual control; it reinforces a culture that expects people to be accessible outside ‘normal’ business hours.

Culture and social life is made subservient to the interests of bureaucratic control, with technology at the forefront.

Work and leisure

 

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