Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Control Freaks: Techno-Whipcrackery in the Workplace

Why is that all our dreams of blissful utopias -- golden ages of peace and plenty, where the lion lies down with the lamb, ploughshares are beaten into swords, and "sickness, sorrow, pain and death are felt and feared no more" -- always come to nothing, while the worst dystopias of 20th century science fiction -- paranoid nightmares of technology-driven repression and control -- seem to be coming true before our eyes?

As the Guardian reports today, some firms in Britain have begun "electronically tagging" their workers, snapping tiny computers to their wrists, arms and fingers, or else outfitting them with computerized vests -- called "wearables" in the cutesy patios beloved by corporate PR. These sinister gizmos issue instructions to the workers on where to go, what to do -- and can also keep track of the serfs' movements, making sure they're not taking any "unauthorized breaks" or doing anything the machines don't want them to do.

At least 10,000 workers are already wired up to these electronic taskmasters, mostly in the warehouses that supply major supermarkets, department stores and discount barns. But never fear: the Holy Heartland Homeland is not far behind the Brits with these thrilling innovation in techno-whipcrackery, says the Guardian:

"Other monitoring devices are being developed in the US, including ones that can check on the productivity of secretaries by measuring the number of key strokes on their word processors; satellite technology is also being developed to monitor productivity in manufacturing jobs. Two London firms are considering using satellites to direct sandwich board holders, making sure they are not shirking and moving them to areas with more people."

And right on cue, the bosses claim that, hey, the little drones love this stuff! They just can't enough of that hands-on, all-body supervision. The Guardian:

"One firm, Peacock Retail Group, claims workers like the system. The company, which has a modern centre in Nantgarw, south Wales, where employees have 28 wearable computers and six mounted on trucks, says the system has a positive impact on team morale. "Everybody likes the wearables because they are comfortable and easy to use. The result is the team finds it easier to do the job," it says on the company website."

Just think what fun Guantanamo George and his corporate oligarchs will have with these toys! All in the name of "national security" and "customer service" of course. Gosh, it's a good thing they've spent 25 years systematically destroying the unions, dismantling worker protections, and debunking the very idea of human rights and human dignity for all those suckers out there without trust funds, tax shelters or capital gains income! That way they can impose all this neat-o gear on the hired help without any of that bleeding-heart boo-hoo-hoo. Brave new world, here we come!