Nye 7
computer says type faster or I will report youHow has technology changed work?
What is it that technology has done for us?
Are we going to get to the point where we don't need to work because machines will do our work for us? This idea was taken seriously in the early 20th century but less so today

Key issues:

robot worker
Technology has made work less physically strenuous and more efficient, but not necessarily less.

The hope that technology would give us lives of leisure has not come true.
The fear that technology will result in not enough jobs for people has not come true.

long term trends
What will happen now that that third trend has stopped

19th & 20th century pattern: technology makes possible more and more mass production
handmade gun
Compare someone who makes beautiful hand carved guns with someone who works in a gun factory on an assembly line
What about the quality of work?
technological innovation tends to mean:
has technology given us leisure--no
has it taken away jobs and left us with mass unemployment--no
has it changed work for the worse as well as for the better--yes
future of work map

 October 1920 cover
In the 1890s, conditions for American workers were particularly bad

 spinning in Georgia
Consider workers in the early 20th century who protested the way work was changing.  The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), often known as the Wobblies, was founded in 1905 (video) World War I put an end to the movement

Society has sometimes looked to engineers for efficiency--make human life more rational with the idea that this will make progress possible.  Efficiency tends to become the goal.1930s technocracy pamphlet


Why haven't we seen robots replacing workers as much as expected?
  • we thought that machines would give us a life of leisure
  • some simple jobs are hard for a robot to do because it is hard to program a robot to adjust to small variations
  • workers are often cheaper than robots--would it be worthwhile for McDonalds to replace all its workers with robots?
  • workers are particularly cheaper in other countries--eg. outsourcing of computer programming to India
  • we may say we want to interact with people, but there wasn't much resistance to the replacement of bank tellers with machines
  • computerization gave workers more information rather than taking away control
  • hours worked per year has actually been increasing since 1970, not continuing to decrease
  • efficiency has tended to mean fewer workers are expected to do more (this is true of professionals as well as factory workers)
  • technology gives us more and more things to buy
  • would you rather work longer hours or make less money?
robot fast food worker

Will technological advancements replace manual labor?
  • is the machine cheaper
  • are there skills that are hard to program into a machine
  • will people value doing the work or a hand made product
Melvin Kranzberg's six laws of technology state:

1st - Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
2nd - Invention is the mother of necessity.
3rd - Technology comes in packages, big and small.
4th - Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
5th - All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
6th - Technology is a very human activity - and so is the history of technology.


This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
HIST 122
last updated 11/11/2016