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Last week Washington Monthly awarded Zephyr Teachout the 2023 Kukula Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviews for her essay “The Boss Will See You Now,” from our August 18, 2022, issue. Taking as her subject the “explosion of corporate investments in workplace surveillance,” she explored the battery of cameras, apps, algorithms, wristbands, badges, microphones, and even software that “can monitor workers’ tone of voice” that employers have deployed on the American workforce in the last thirty years, and the toll taken by decades spent laboring under your boss’s eye.
Below, alongside Teachout’s essay, we have collected five pieces from our archives about workers’ rights, surveillance, and technology.
“Employers read employees’ e-mails, track their Internet use, and listen to their conversations. Nurses and warehouse workers are forced to wear ID badges, wristbands, or clothing with chips that track their movements, measuring steps and comparing them to coworkers’ and the steps taken yesterday.”
“Daniela found out she had breast cancer in early 2019. Her doctor gave her a note that allowed her to go to the bathroom at work whenever she needed. Even then, she told me, her supervisor [at a Tyson Foods meatpacking plant] would follow her to the stall and ask her loudly, as she emerged, why she had taken so long.”
“A survey by the Biking Public Project found that 62 percent of working cyclists in New York City had experienced a crash with a motor vehicle at some point, and nearly a third had missed work due to work-related injuries in 2017. After an accident, not only is there generally no compensation, but cyclists are sometimes kicked off their apps if an incident involving an injury interferes with the delivery of an order.”
“What really distinguishes this moment is the speed at which technology is changing and changing society with it. If the ‘calamity prophets’ are finally right, and this time the machines really will win out, this is why. It’s not just that computers seem to be infiltrating every aspect of our lives, it’s that they have infiltrated them and are infiltrating them with breathless rapidity. It’s not just that life seems to have sped up, it’s that it has.”
“New technologies created new ways ‘of designing and monitoring the work of other parties,’ making it easier to outsource work while retaining and even intensifying control over worker performance.”
“If we pretend that this transformation will automatically create new jobs for the men and women it displaces, we will probably end up with a vastly expanded underclass, not a vastly expanded pool of computer programmers.”
Categories: Economics/Class Relations