Technological Oppression: Is Your Phone Putting You to Work?

Have you ever noticed just how attached to our phones we have become? Look around you, I bet you have your cellphone within reach right now. And why not? It has become our main connection to everything and everyone. Phones are about more than just good ole’ telephone conversations, now we can text message, photo message, Tweet, Facebook, Instagram, pin on Pinterest, email, and so much more! What was once considered a convenience, this modern technology has become a staple for people’s daily lives and it keeps us connected to each other constantly.

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While advanced technology, like smartphones, are a great personal tool, a lot of people use their phones for work purposes and this technological connection is becoming more and more dominant throughout society. Being able to access work email, and on some devices, work documents, has lead society into an age that some scholars refer to as Web 2.0, wherein “workplace values and practices extend into non-work life” and “… the family and community have changed their basic relations to the work experience. Increasingly, each is structured around the demands of the workplace” (Deetz, 1991). The Web 2.0 world has it pros; the advanced technology allows people to accomplish tasks at a faster rate and with better resources than previous generations have seen, which increase an organization’s productivity and profits.

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However, Web 2.0 life has its cons as well; the advanced technology has created a society full of manufactured consent and technical control. Manufactured consent refers to when an employee willingly adopts and enforces the ideologies and beliefs of an organizational system, while technical control refers to the use of knowledge based systems (cellphones, laptops, etc) that keep employees constantly connected to their jobs. (Eisenberg, Goodall, & Trethewey, 2010) In this instance, an employee who works for a finance group uses a cellphone for work purposes, such as checking email, on a perpetual basis to make sure that client needs are being met in a timely and efficient manner (technical control). The company continues to expect the same work ethic throughout the employee’s career, which leads to the enforcement of the idea that the employee should always be available to clients no matter the time of day or night because of the technology provided(manufactured consent).

I can speak to this use of technological control and manufactured consent because of my own experiences. My current organization expects me to be available to my volunteers on a 24/7 basis. They do not come right out and say this, however the idea is ever present in the communications between supervisors and myself. For example, it was suggested that I add my work email onto my phone so that if I am ever away from the office, I can stay up to date on any issues that may arise in my absence. Now, whenever I am away from my desk, I found myself constantly checking my work email via my phone —  sometimes on the weekends or after 11pm at night, when I’m technically no longer “on the job”. The sad part is that I did not resist the belief that I need to be connected at all times. Not once did I think of how it might inhibit me from being able to unwind from work and leave work at work. Instead, I gave in and became a Web 2.0 zombie — cellphone always in my hand, head bent down with my fingers typing away as I respond to work emails, even though I am walking into the gym, or sitting down to dinner with my family.

This begs the question, if the Web 2.0 society is this connected to technology currently, what is coming down the line for Web 3.0 generations? Sadly, I think we have already started to see the development of the Web 3.0 society with watches that can answer phone calls and with iPads and tablets that can connect to the television. Web 2.0 may rely on a few devices to stay connected, but we still possess the ability to “unplug” by putting the phone or laptop down and disconnecting for a bit in order to spend time with our family and friends.

I believe the Web 3.0 generation will have various devices that connect with each other so that there will never be a moment when a person is not connected to some form of technology. It will create a true 24/7 connection that is scary to think about; on one hand the continuous connection would be a benefit for learning (as evidenced by the fact that I can currently earn my Masters degree through an online program). However, the pervasive technology in a Web 3.0 society will inhibit younger generations social skills. Will children be able to successfully interact with one another or converse with others without the aid, and sometimes anonymity, of advanced technology?  If “the employee is first a resource, never a citizen” (Deetz, 1991,15) in a Web 2.0 world, then in a Web 3.0 world the employee will be nothing more than a technology tool themselves, unable to “unplug” and separate themselves from their work life.

Resources:

Deetz, S. (1991). Democracy in an age of corporate colonization: Developments in communication and the politics of everyday life. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Chapter 1.

Eisenberg, E.M., Goodall, H.L. & Trethewey. A. (2010) Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint. (6th ed.) Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s.

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