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A narrowly focused but thoughtful critique of advanced technology's impact on those who staff microcircuit assembly lines and work in or around automated offices. Howard, a senior editor at Modern Times magazine, probes the expanding use of computers by business. For many white-collar and technical employees, he concludes, the machines have failed to deliver on the utopian promises made for them by sellers--and buyers. In particular, Howard disputes the notion that EDP equipment is transforming impersonal corporate bureaucracies into caring communities where self-realization is a realistic possibility. Indeed, he finds that lower-echelon occupations are being ""deskilled"" and subjected to tighter control, thanks to the new systems' monitoring capabilities. Howard offers mainly ancedotal evidence to support his contention that equity is not being reconciled with efficiency in the brave new workplace (a none-too-subtle allusion to the Huxley novel). Notable in this respect is the horror story of AT&T's since-closed International Operating Center in New York City, where stresses created by installation of a computer-based scheduling system precipitated a bitter labor dispute that resulted in an unauthorized walkout during the high-traffic Christmas season in 1973. The author paints an equally grim picture of working-stiff life in Silicon Valley. Here, in the cradle of advanced technology, he contends, harsh realities belie the benign image projected by makers of semiconductor devices. On the job, the poorly compensated labor force (predominantly, female members of ethnic minorities) faces severe health hazards from the toxic substances (arsenic, phosphorous, nitric acid, among them) routinely used in manufacturing processes. In addition, he observes, the prospect of participation has long since been a casualty of the drive to enhance productivity and cut costs. Toward the close, Howard argues briefly that trade unions will have to address the issues raised by the rapid introduction of new technologies in the American workplace. As a practical matter, his prescription begs such questions as how this end might be reached (given the ongoing decline of organized labor) and who would bear the resultant costs. This inconclusive (and unpersuasive) windup does not, however, detract substantively from his up-to-date examination of the discontents of employment in high-tech's nether reaches.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking