I’ve had a few brushes recently with different tracking technology deployed in automobiles used by professionals. When the Geek Squad came by to help with printer problems, the tech explained that his company-provided car has a tracking device that logs where the vehicle is at all times. Today I read an article, pointed to by Jason Long, about similar technology being used in the truck driving industry. In the later example, the author lamented how these devices contribute to “draining their enthusiasm for this life.” I’m not surprised.
As a teen and college student, I held a wide, wide variety of odd jobs. Among them were jobs related to delivery, and those that required driving to and from appointments. If my vehicle was tracked at all times, I would have lost my mind. The sheer boredom and monotony of those jobs required my sometimes going off and getting a snack, or otherwise not driving straight from Point A to Point B in the most effective, efficient, and basely “pro-employer” way possible. Within the allowances of my own personal moral compass, I carved out time for myself. That time allowed me to do my work with better energy and attitude. It allowed me to re-claim some humanity and sense of self-control within the vortex of sometimes de-humanizing service and labor positions.
The trap many companies are likely to fall into with the deployment of these tracking technologies is squeezing the humanity out of the worker altogether. None of us are robots who can only and simply complete monotonous work with limited break or relief. To be well, to be empowered to function fully, we require some modicum of space for ourselves. Our control. Our schedule. Our way.
In these two automobile-related examples that I am familiar with, those people already doing not particularly edifying jobs are having some of their limited ability to exert their will and selves into the process of their profession snuffed. This is very, very troubling, particularly for those who are in professions that are less fulfilling and enjoyable.
Last week I saw a bumper sticker that said “I hate my job. We all hate our jobs.” and I reacted viscerally to it. “Bullshit! I don’t hate my job; I love what I do. Most people I work with and for, I believe most of them love what they do. Where are you coming from?”
Upon further reflection, it seemed clear where he was coming from: a place where his professional life is filled doing unpleasant things. It would be interesting to poll knowledge workers and poll factory workers and see what the comparative job happiness looks like. I’m guessing that knowledge workers are much, much happier. And getting paid better besides. And most of the knowledge employers I know are very liberal and lax in letting their people work how and when they need to. It is part of what is required to get and keep the best talent. Often stories of workplace oppression seem to be in more manufacturing or logistics-related companies, those that are more about things than people or ideas. Still, for many of us, we are blessed to live some of the most comfortable and privileged lives in human history.
The people who most need the space to breathe, to not simply optimize every moment and find pockets of self and humanity, are being increasingly prevented from doing it by new technology. Now, the fault is not the technology; it is the companies that continue to run as they always have, grinding out every penny and focusing on the short-term ledger sheet as opposed to the long-term organization. Now with access to modern tracking technology they track cars, block websites, track computer usage and otherwise stamp out individual’s efforts to create equilibrium in their lives.
Sure, of course there are frak-ups who take advantage, are lazy, or otherwise detrimental to their employers and, often, society. But crucifying the many more honest and hard-working people on the claim that those abuses need to be curtailed entirely misses the point. Here’s hoping that corporate philosophy catches up to technology soon and we can properly use and embrace – not abuse and use to harm others with – these lovely technologies.