Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Opinion Essay: Technology’s Effects on Work in the Post-Industrial Society

In 2012 I wrote this essay for a class called "Contextual Nature of Product design". I'm now publishing here so I will be able to reference it easily at a later date and to make sure it doesn't become lost in the sea of files on my hard-drive. I'm also posting it here because I believe it is still somewhat relevant to my beliefs as a designer in the modern world. My research during 2012 as a third-year undergraduate played a role in my ideas today. My ideas have changed since 2012, and they are continuing to evolve as I continue to learn. I realized that I truly enjoy research, and I believe it is one of the most valuable tools I have as a designer.  

Work has developed in many ways since the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution saw the birth of mass production, assembly lines and factory work. The environment of work changed. People, who once worked at home, in their own workshops as craftsmen or on their own farms, were now leaving home to go to work at massive factories or began working for large companies ("The industrial revolution," n.d.). There was also a massive growth of new inventions and technology, leading to many new work trends inside and outside the home (Cowan, 1976, p.1). It was also during this time that people began to develop an appreciation for the need of trained a trained labor force, as adult workers who had previous experience as factory workers were often paid more than untrained workers (Galbi, 1997, p. 9). This rapid growth has continued throughout the last century and the nature of work has continued to change.

(Essay introduction continues after break)

The way we in the post-industrial era are largely influenced by the major advances that have been made in technology. There is still a need for a trained work force but with more focus on professionalism and technical skills; more value is given to theoretical knowledge over application and physical skills (Ritzer n.d). Evidence of post-industrial society’s value of theoretical knowledge is the growing rate of higher education among the masses (Webster, 2002, p. 30). Not only are people more likely to have post-secondary education, but also those who have higher education are often paid more. Furthermore there is difference in pay seen between workers with college versus university education. The “Canadian 2001 Census showed that university graduates aged 25 to 34 earned 36% more on average than similarly aged college graduates” ("If you build," 2008). Another quality of the post-industrial age is the value placed on new technologies in the work force; workers seek to implement and control them (Ritzer, n.d.). Advances in technology are seen as beneficial and portrayed as such in media and advertisements, however technology has had variable effects on the way people work in the postmodern age. It has benefits, but many down falls as well (Schwarz, 2000, p. 2-3).

The technology itself does not always make work easier or faster. This was the case during the industrial revolution, when new appliances made work less physically burdensome but not any faster and continues to be the case in the post-industrial age when a malfunctioning computer can add hours of work to a simple task. New technology has also had an effect on the skills required for certain jobs, as well as the types of jobs available. There is an influx of information technology (IT) and service based jobs, while the “blue collared” jobs are becoming a minority. While factories are not disappearing, the way they operate is changing. Another job segment that has seen growth during the technology boom is the entrepreneurial sector.

Another issue that must be addressed is the need for interconnectivity. In the post-industrial age, technology has allowed workers to be connected at all times, and they are expected to maintain this social network if they wish to do their jobs effectively. This has led to a rise in virtual work (also called telework or e-work). Related to heightened interconnectivity is the loss of work-life boundaries. While virtual work has been said by some to be the key to worker satisfaction and flexibility of the job, it has also been shown to have negative effects on the worker’s ability to keep work from invading their personal lives, and their personal lives from invading work. Overall, this means that technology has allowed work to change, but it has not made work easier.

Full essay and bibliography available as PDF:
tflohr_work in postindustrial society.pdf

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