Metal to Liquid.

Since the 19th century the 8-hour shift has governed the workplace (as Dolly Parton so clearly explains). You wake up, you go to work, you start work, you work, you finish work, you go home, and then you go to sleep. This is your daily routine and other aspects of your life revolve around this. 8-HOUR-DAY-BANNER

If you work for a huge centralised organisation you have probably never met the head honcho, let alone ever spoken to him (That’s cheating the hierarchal structure).  Lets say you are at work and you observe a problem. After an in depth analysis of data you orient a solution to this problem. So who has the power to implement this solution? Yup, the big ole head honcho whom you have never met. So, what’s next? Before a decision can be made as to wether to act on your astounding solution you will need to approach your immediate manager. He will then pass it on to his manager and so on and so forth. Well…

The time it takes to make a decision in a centralised company.. (May be exaggerated)

The decision may be made to accept or reject your solution. And by that stage it will probably be obsolete anyway. This is known as the OODA loop, created by military strategist John Boyd.

oodaBoyd theorised that the most effective organisations are the ones that have a highly decentralised chain of command and distribute their decision-making. Allowing the organisation to react and adapt to events at a greater speed than their competitors. This leads me to Google. Since the company was founded in 1998 (by Larry Page and Sergey Brin) Google has always aimed to maintain its innovative spirit. Google embodies the new age of knowledge and information as a product, and as a result employs ‘Liquid Labour’ (production of information).

Google employees are mostly accountable for themselves. They have the freedom to spend 70% of their time on their current assignments, 20% on related projects of their choosing and 10% on new projects in any areas they desire. This authorises employees to make fast decisions and allows them to take risks. Google executives also encourage employees and managers to work directly with each other, promoting effective communication. This organisational structure is one of the reasons why Google has had such a quick rise to the top, trumping other search engines of it’s time like Yahoo!, AltaVista and AOL.

Since the rise of the global media business, information has become power. Production is based on information. What does this mean? We need ‘knowledge workers’ (Peter Drucker). Knowledge workers are employees whose main capital is knowledge (software engineers, architects, scientists, lawyers, etc.). So what do all these professions have in common? They think for a living. How does this differ from industrial labour, factory machines and the ole’ assembly line? We now have liquid labour, information machines and information processing. The free flow of information requires local decision-making. This creates a demand for labour to be always available and unrestrained by borders. To be a knowledge worker you have to be available anytime and any space (always on, always connected). The global market networks never stops, there is always a continuous flow of information, it is alive.

Of course there has to be implications for the ever connected. Anticipatory labour refers to the anticipation of informal hours. Whilst Dolly Parton sings about rolling out of bed and heading to work at 9, knowledge workers may wake up at 7am and check their emails, meaning they have already begun their workday. This leads to the term ‘Function creep’, which describes the consequences of the constant connectivity that work requires, and how it creeps into your personal life to the point where work becomes ‘just life’. The term to describe the constant urge to check emails, social networks and your phone in order to stay on top of the constant updates that work requires, is known as ‘presence bleed’, as you are never fully in one place at a time.  Industrial work is set to the rhythm of the machine. Knowledge work is set to the flow of information. And the flow of information never stops.

Pictures thanks to –

Bibliography –

Deuze, M (2006), ‘Liquid Life, Convergence Culture, and Media Work’, Indiana University.


1 Comment

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One response to “Metal to Liquid.

  1. Very interesting post Leah. I really enjoyed the illustrations regarding the different type of networking between the different online companies. The Google structure in particular really looks like a fantastic environment to work in. You have so much more support when you are all connected together. The Dolly Parton example was a great pop culture reference also as it really does highlight the values of the industrial culture which were fundamentally strength, dexterities and entities. These days with the information economy businesses and industry are heavily reliant on power, creativity and building relationship.

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