söndag 23 juni 2013

ICT society scenarios & the future of work

Back in the beginning of February, I wrote a blog post about the research project I'm part of, "Scenarios and impacts of the information society". The project description states that "The project will focus on one overarching question: What are the local and global sustainability implications of different scenarios of ICT societies?".

During the spring, I have been part of a four-person team that has included the two project leaders and that has worked with developing the ICT scenarios in question. We have come up with five different scenarios (or at the moment rather "scenario skeletons"), i.e. five different "stories about the way the world might turn out tomorrow" (Dreborg 2004). The titles below are preliminary, and I have briefly summarized these scenarios as follows:

1) Environmentally sustainable society driven by ICT
Cooperation, sharing and open knowledge, facilitated and driven by ICT comes true. Internet (open source, open [whatever/everything]) values of sharing and building on the work of others successfully enter mainstream society. Technology helps us decrease our resource consumption and teleworking is common. A parallel currency is introduced to limit consumption and CO2-emitting activities and an ICT system keeps track of products and services and their environmental footprints.

2) Life online
As much as possible, life is lived online. With the exception of having access to personal digital technologies that will get you online, other material possessions are of decreased importance. Most people work just enough to satisfy basic physical needs, and a new, positive culture has arisen around limited real-world wealth, a surplus of free time (spent online) and an abundance of free resources, information and culture online.

3) Gated communities
Trust is as asset that is as highly valued as it is rare. Fear (from terrorism, diseases or perhaps something else?) makes people stick to "safe" and "controlled" environments both online and offline. Walls divide people, globalization is just a memory and society is stratified. Power is concentrated to a small number of (online/offline) societal actors. Materialism is high, since stuff can be "trusted" and sends clear signals regarding image and status.

4) The end of economic growth
Economic activity is shrinking, technological innovation (and pensions) are low. People hang on to what they have as necessities consume a higher proportion of disposable incomes. The household economy becomes more important (vs. paid labor and buying services) and class society makes a comeback. Cell phones, computers and Internet access is highly valued but expensive, (c.f. poor people in developing countries today).

5) 50 billion devices
Everything is connected and oodles of devices collect oodles of data (sensors, lifelogging, quantified self, big data). Consumption levels are high, people live in high-tech homes, and material status matters a lot. People are "obsessed" by gadgets and continuously collected data is shared (or is anyway impossible to control). The scenario title has to be changes and this is the title of an Ericsson scenario that is much more upbeat than ours...

For now, we will put these scenarios aside (they will be more fully developed later). During the autumn we will instead work on "building blocks", i.e. areas that should be explored in all the scenarios above. There are four building blocks: 1) private and public, 2) households, 3) technological development of ICT and 4) structural change. 

I'm in the household building block/theme/area/group and this building block is further divided into three "building block parts" - time use, work patterns and consumption. I'm responsible for "work patterns". The concrete end result of this responsibility of mine will be a 10-30 pages long report (possibly later turned into a journal article or a chapter in a future book). These reports should all cover 1) historical development, 2) current situation, 3) trends and 4) potentials (for ICT) in the area in question. 

I've already started to prepare for the autumn's upcoming work by thinking about which books to read after the summer. This represents a list of candidates:

Books I consider buying/reading: 
- Brynjolfsson & McAfee, "Race against the machine: How the digital revolution is accelerating innovation, driving productivity and irreversibly transforming employment and the economy (2012)
- Florida, "The rise of the creative class - revisited: 10th anniversary edition (2012)
- Moretti, "The new geography of jobs" (2012)
- Berhardtz (ed.), "Skitliv: Ungas villkor på en förändrad arbetsmarknad" (2012)
- Standing, "The precariat: The new dangerious class" (2011)
- Jones, "Chavs: The demonization of the working class" (2011)
- Paulsen, "Arbetssamhället: Hur arbetet överlevde teknologin" (2010)
- Hayes, "Radical homemakers: Reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture" (2010) 
- Andersson & Sylwan, "Framtidens arbete och liv" (1997)
- Ingelstam, "Ekonomi för en ny tid" (1995)
- Schor, "The overworked American: The unexpected decline of leisure" (1993)
- Sennett & Cobb, "The hidden injuries of class" (1993)
- Willis, "Learning to labor: How working class kids get working class jobs" (1977)
- Braverman, "Labor and monopoly capital: The degradation of work in the twentieth century" (1974)
- Burenstam Linder, "Den rastlösa välfärdsmänniskan" (1969)

No less than 14 books are listed above, but I plan to "only" buy around half a dozen for now and I need your help to figure out which! Have you, dear reader, read and/or have opinions about any of the books above? If so, please leave a comment below!

Beyond the list above, I have also already read a number of books that comes to mind and that I for sure will have use of, for example Sennett's "The corrosion of character: The personal consequences of work in the new capitalism" (2000), Himanen's "The hacker ethic and the spirit of the information age"(2001) and Boltanski & Chiapello's "The new spirit of capitalism" (1999/2005).

Yet another way to get inspiration is by watching movies. I'm thinking of movies about work like Pichler's "Äta, sova, dö" [Eat, sleep, die] (2012), Reitman's "Up in the air" (with George Clooney) (2009), Loach's "It's a free world..." and why not also Chaplin's "Modern times" (1936)? Suggestions for movies to watch would also be much appreciated!

2 kommentarer:

  1. I can recommend the mexican film Sleep dealer about migrant workers on the militarized border of a near-future Mexico/USA. It's good because it shows the "other" side of a hi-tech future; those that are outside technology or those for whom connecting to technology is not a leisure choice but a necessity for survival.

    Here's a trailer:

    I also have the movie if you can't find it elsewhere.

  2. Thanks for the pointer to Sleeper dealer, will check it up.

    I am intensely interested in the bifurcation of opportunities both between and within countries. Many people also here in Sweden are obviously "losers" of the globalization process. These are the people that have been "left behind" and I assume many of them support the Swedish Democrats anti-immigration rhetoric. Do note that I don't think it's fair to call these people "losers", I instead think of them as the people who lost out - the people who don't profit but have rather been harmed by globalization.

    As to the real losers of the world, I'm right now reading a book about Mumbay slumdwellers. These are the real-world "slumdog billionaires" - except none of the becomes billionaires and very few indeed even make the hoped-for transition to real jobs with (from an Indian perspective) "real salaries", i.e. jobs like driving a taxi, or cleaning hotel rooms. I'll write about that book on the blog later.