THE ELECTRONIC SWEATSHOP: How Computers Are Transforming the Office of the Future Into the Factory of the Past by Barbara Garson

THE ELECTRONIC SWEATSHOP: How Computers Are Transforming the Office of the Future Into the Factory of the Past

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The microchips are devouring the souls of the nation's office workers, author Garson has discovered, and nobody cares. She descries the invasion of latter-day body snatchers--the ubiquitious computer terminals--through such typical American enterprises as MacDonald's, Proctor and Gamble, and the Pentagon. But as she rises to the attack, her earnest bark often exceeds her reportorial bite. Garson (who nailed LBJ so long ago with a play, MacBird!, and bemoaned life on the assembly line with All the Livelong Day) is on the right track. But extensive and somehow unconvincing interviews with put-upon clerical workers and their bumbling supervisors interfere with her full head of steam. More to the point are revelations as to just how hamburgers and fries are replicated with such prompt uniformity by workers with no skill at all, what making an airline reservation sounds like at the other end of the line, or how social workers are turned into piece workers. The computer has become more than a tool, the argument goes--though, for example, the automated financial planning offered by brokerage houses, insiders know, was never designed to be more than a marketing gimmick. It would be hard to find a tax professional who didn't see the benefits of electronic return preparation or a modern lawyer who didn't stack up time charges just like garment workers of old who piled up their penny slips. But it's all gotten out of hand, Garson maintains. It's time-and-motion engineering run amok. More and more, the machine reproduces expertise, replaces the experts with drones, and then keeps tab on the degraded drones' productivity. Garson says that ""office, service and professional work is deliberately being arranged like factory work in order to make people cheap and disposable."" A heartfelt cry against dreadful routine, as humanist takes on technocrat, Mother Jones meets Merrill Lynch; but don't bet against bureaucracy: it will take more than one angry book to beat it. (For a more scholarly and somewhat less dour survey of office automation, see Zuboff's In the Age of the Smart Machine, reviewed below.)

Pub Date: May 18th, 1988
Publisher: Simon & Schuster