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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

work, laptops + blackberries « Previous | |Next »
July 10, 2010

The inner city professional is a fixture of the political landscape, especially for those right wing conservatives and populists --eg., those in The Australian--- who dismiss this new class as cosmopolitan elitists disconnected from the common sense and working lives of the ordinary battling Australians who are the salt of the earth.

If we step behind this stereotypical thinking of the us versus them" cultural conflicts of the cultural wars, which divide up the population into warring tribes that then demonize each other, then what do we find?

One answer is this review of Dalton Conley's "Elsewhere, USA. This text refers to a class of people in fast capitalism who live their lives buffeted by the many streams of information coming to them via their BlackBerries (iPhones?) and laptops, where the old boundaries of ‘public’ and ‘private’ are shattered, and where work and leisure combined, and the e new ‘portable office’ is the norm. This is the lifestyle of white collar professionals employed in the knowledge and information economy at the beginning of the 21st century.

This is a completely different world to that of breadwinner husbands and breadmaker wives—as depicted in the television series Mad Men, which successfully dispels the conservative myth of the 1950s suburban picket fence as a golden age. It is one where all the spheres – home, work, social life – have collapsed into each other.

Today workplaces with in-house kitchens, gymnasiums and an assortment of personal services are standard fare in the corporate world (especially Google). This world is a whirlpool of constantly intersecting activities in which workers multi-task their way through every minute of the day, feeling ever pressed for time and on the move that is premised on the increased labor force participation of women. That increased participation is an enormous cultural shift.

Life today for this class is to be overscheduled, behind on work, and managing multiple data streams. Conley argues that by being multiple places at once—online, on the phone, where we physically are, on the worry list in our heads—toggling back and forth, we get no time to be “alone” and get to know ourselves. With the erosion of privacy comes the erosion of the private self.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:03 PM | | Comments (8)


Once we had a coherent, private self that we had to discover and then use to guide our choices, values and actions, . Now we are learning how to manage multiple selves and respond to multiple data streams in virtual places. The idea is not to find a core of authenticity but to learn to balance.

Well, you could sell the IT business or dump working for BHP Billiton or a Canberra consultancy/lobbyist, pack up and move to rural Victor Harbor and start an simple life!

More seriously though the backlash to the modern 24/7 dominant work lifestyle is the slow foods, simple living, back to basics movement.

Alvin Gouldner, an American socciologist, argued that the New Class is elitist and self-seeking and uses its special knowledge to advance its own interests and power…. …It seeks special guild advantages—political power and incomes—on the basis of its possession of cultural capital. The interests of this class, then, is to dispose it to control the supply and limit the production of its culture….

Frankly, I couldn't have managed my parenting (and now grandparenting) duties without being able to work out of the office, whether on a day I need to be home or to get home at a reasonable hour, and hook into work after kids are settled. Certainly, as a 24x7 carer of a under 6-monther while working full time, I couldn't have done it in 1987 without being able to dial into work.

That said... I /am/ getting regular system-generated "I'm happy" emails, instant notification of system failures... and this lets me schedule things much better when things go wrong.

Yes, the private/work life is fragmented... but I need it that way.

Besides, shifting a few hours of work to at home and late at night gets more done... I'm not available for as many time-wasting meetings with PHBs.

In The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class, Gouldner assesses the importance of a culture of critical discourse and its consequent practitioners - intellectuals rather than the inner city professionals who are part of the knowledge economy.

the internet / wireless revolution has not only allowed us to work all the time when we are not physically present at our employer’s location; it also allows us to stay connected to our non-work lives when we are ostensibly at work. And, of course, this IT industry itself has accelerated the growth in knowledge sector jobs where we can work anywhere since there is no physical product with which we are dealing.

Gary it's arguable many people are simply returning to a more normal condition in which there is no meaningful distinction between work and leisure. After all the concepts of leisure and a private self are comparatively modern innovations for the masses. For most of human history they have been reserved for a small minority of privileged ruling class members.

While many people are now at the workplace for long hours, a lot of them don't work particularly hard while they are there. The workers who are genuinely deserving of sympathy are the 25% of the workforce in precarious employment, getting by on a series of low-paid casual and contract jobs where they really do have to work intensively.

one thing that has happened with the shift to an information/knowledge is the growing inequality. At one end of the conveyor belt of technological innovation there emerge the new poor working part time or casually. The institutionalisation of casual labour ----'flexibility'--- is now affecting the career structures of professionals due to the ongoing process of ‘restructuring’.

I'm not sure that Labor's concept of 'fairness' addresses the growing inequality in any substantive way.