HUCTW: new technology and the older* workers.


Like everything in the real world economics** the rapid pace of technological advance is a boon to some and bane to others. When I was knee high to a cyclotron,*** I read Norbert Wiener‘s The Human Use of Human Beings. He realized early on that automation would have profound effects on the world of work. He went to the unions to warn them. He was not well received.

In the days of Wiener, automation largely affected manufacturing. Surely it would never reach the knowledge industry, right? Surprise! The world of knowledge work is changing as rapidly now as manufacturing did during the Industrial Revolution. Harvard has a highly mixed response to this. Unsuprisingly, the science and engineering departments have embraced much of this change. Surprisingly, the Classics Building has a very nice looking computer center. We in the infrastructure, the Havard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, have a somewhat different problem. The administration, not the market, has reserved to itself, the right to determine how technology will change our lives. Sometimes we are told that we can’t use new technology, sometimes we are told the we must, and sometimes we are told that technology means that we are no longer needed.

Are these administrative decisions based solely on “objective criteria”, “the ‘science’ of labor economics”, or “the good of Harvard.” Or are there more narrow interests involved? Why are technicians who maintain chemistry labs considered “technical workers”, but the people who maintain computer labs “managers”? And the marketers keep telling us that computers are much easier to maintain than they used to be.****

Most importantly, what say do we have in how our work environment is fashioned – that it allow us to accentuate our strengths? Or is it decided on high by managers insecure in their lack of technical knowledge being told by marketers that they must buy this or that to “stay competitive?”

I have a lot more to say, but I have to do some life support activity. I’ll discuss the nanoeconomics of technological change. i.e. why people who think Version x.y.z of Eudora was just fine are not nuts.

In the mean time. if you missed my previous posts they’re flipped to private by still on the server.

HUCTW:The light dawns on Marblehead

HUCTW:Much ado about not much.

I always have a lot of “works in progress” like, My Heart is on the Left. But Tru is half right when he says that all an artist has is his life. The whole truth is that’s all any of us have. Be a work in progress. It’s a good thing.
*Actually, I would like to include younger workers with a Luddite bent in this conversation.
**As opposed to Planck scale economics in which picking the right standard alleviates the need for any engineering. Some believe in Pareto Optimality and voila they are in the best of all possible worlds. Most of them are bankers, CEO’s, or economists. Others incant, “From each according as he is able to each according to his needs,” and think they are surely destined to lead the way to the promised land. Me? I think we should build the future together. In overwhelming likelihood, it will require engineering. Step one would to include the sisters of Xanthippe in the above nostrum. Sadly Wikipedia does not yet know the best story about her – related by Carl Jaspers. Did you ever wonder how Socrates could afford to hang out in the market place being all Socratic and stuff?
***They’re about the size of a refrigerator these days.

****I once had a bad bit in THE accumulator of my PDP-8. That bit required a 4″x 6″ printed circuit card.

If I had a song that I could sing for you
HUCTW: The Behavioural Economics of Using and Choosing New Software.

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