Taylorism on Digital Steroids

Here are reminders, if we needed them, that the role of technology in our world transcends artifacts, tools, and devices. It also entails, as Jacques Ellul well understood, a particular way of looking at the world and its problems (and, as Morozov has suggested, it constitutes certain conditions and phenomenon as problems).

From Salon:

“Amazon equals Walmart in the use of monitoring technologies to track the minute-by-minute movements and performance of employees and in settings that go beyond the assembly line to include their movement between loading and unloading docks, between packing and unpacking stations, and to and from the miles of shelving at what Amazon calls its “fulfillment centers”—gigantic warehouses where goods ordered by Amazon’s online customers are sent by manufacturers and wholesalers, there to be shelved, packaged, and sent out again to the Amazon customer.

Amazon’s shop-floor processes are an extreme variant of Taylorism that Frederick Winslow Taylor himself, a near century after his death, would have no trouble recognizing. With this twenty-first-century Taylorism, management experts, scientific managers, take the basic workplace tasks at Amazon, such as the movement, shelving, and packaging of goods, and break down these tasks into their subtasks, usually measured in seconds; then rely on time and motion studies to find the fastest way to perform each subtask; and then reassemble the subtasks and make this “one best way” the process that employees must follow.”

From Business Insider:

“There’s a fine line between micromanaging and house arrest, and British grocery store chain Tesco […] seems determined to cross it. According to the Irish Independent, employees at the company’s Dublin distribution center are forced to wear armbands that measure their productivity so closely that the company even knows when they take a bathroom break.

The armbands, officially known as Motorola arm-mounted terminals, look like something between a Game Boy and Garmin GPS device. The terminals keep track of how quickly and competently employees unload and scan goods in the warehouse and gives them a grade. It also sets benchmarks for loading and unloading speed, which workers are expected to meet. The monitors can be turned off during workers’ lunch breaks, but anything else—bathroom trips, visits to a water fountain—reportedly lowers their productivity score.”

These folks would’ve been in trouble. They might also have had the good sense to revolt, being peasants and all.

Pieter Brueghel, The Harvesters (1565)
Pieter Brueghel, The Harvesters (1565)