Technology as Work and Work as Technology

Technology as Work and Work as Technology

Mrinmoy Majumder (Goa Institute of Management, Sanquelim, India)
DOI: 10.4018/IJHCITP.2016010102
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Information technology (IT) organizations are considered the flag bearers of the post-industrial society. Arguably, the IT organizations are engaging and generating new forms of work such as software development. The new forms of work do not culminate in a material or a physical product. Rather the new forms of work is processed through computers, headsets and phones. Hence, this article presents the analysis of new forms of work emerging out of IT organizations. It addresses the question about how, technology is producing a new definition of work. In doing so, the article addresses the concepts of human capital, cyber-workers and intrusion of open source learning, along with a detailed profiling of sales personnel (the new power agents of IT). Although, we come to think of technology as a mere tool, but unpacking the nature of work from an ontological perspective has made us to rethink our ideas about technology. It thus, give a complex perspective, as work and technology are entangled together with no clear-cut distinction, however this perspective generates concrete theoretical understandings while contributing to the contemporary industrial relations framework.
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Information technology (IT) organizations are considered the flag bearers of the post-industrial society (Bell, 1976; Barker, 2003; Barkan, 2012; Strangleman and Warren, 2008) for engaging in new forms of work such as software development. Several scholars (Lazzarato, 1996; Hardt and Negri, 2005; Yunwen Ye et al., 2010) have distinguished the concept of ‘work’ coming out of post-industrial society. According to them these forms of work do not culminate in a material or a physical product. Rather the new forms of work is processed through computers, headsets and phones. Lazzarato (1996) calls it ‘immaterial labour’. Extending his concept further, Hardt and Negri (2005) define immaterial labour as the ‘immaterial products, such as knowledge, information, communication, a relationship, or an emotional response’ (p.108).

IT organizations are the epitome of new workplace technologies that have radically changed the landscape of work. Traditional knowledge about work needs to be reconsidered, as it cannot account the ever-changing notion of work within the global economy. Due to the proliferation of new technologies at workplaces, the concept of work has attained new theoretical domain on the premise of classical Marxist theory of labour. The new theoretical dimension is based on the definition of work emerging from knowledge and information economy. These economies have contributed in producing a new kind of work, thereby removing it from the quantifiable characteristics of labour. Traditional labour has been looked upon from the quantitative aspect of producing goods to define labour, but that seems no longer the case in the knowledge and information economy.

Sallaz (2013) traces the transformation of work in his book Labor, Economy, and Society through a critical analysis of formal employment during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The outcome of formal employment has moved beyond the ‘value’ that was once imagined by the industrial society. From the Marxist lens, labour served as a determinant of technology, which is no longer accurate considering the emergence of new technologies that resulted in the formation of the new structure, governance style and organization (Sallaz, 2013). So, are these new technologies actually giving rise to new forms of work and if yes, then in what ways. To elucidate it further, we need to understand that in an IT organization, workers are working on technologies to code and create applications and software. Simply by highlighting these processes of work, we can say that technology is the cause for production of technology. Consequently, coding would be considered the gateway to new technological development. More so in the case of new technologies or even a workplace or organization striving on a technological surface within which there are ample machines, tools and instruments meant for executing the work and smoothening function of the organization.

Talking about new forms of work is the culmination of new technologies and human beings, giving rise to mass scale production. Hence, with the emergence of new forms of work the mass scale production has also come to a new business sector that unlike manufacturing and agricultural sector does not produce tangible outputs. Even coding is now considered as mass scale production, Arun who is heading the India operations of an SAP-based IT firm, says “Coding has replaced the idea of mass scale production, for us it is as if we are producing goods consistently for the global clients”. Coding is no longer limited to one aspect of programming as with technological advancement and global shift in the economy; India has climbed the value chain in IT development, leading to mass production of codes. It is necessary to understand the process of coding as it dominates the day of IT workers. Unpacking the complex nature of coding would reveal more about the characteristics of these new forms of work.

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