TIME Magazine on the Future of Work

The Future of Work

As the latest instance of a major media outlet prescribing mass surrender of even the most limited workplace rights, the cover copy for the May 25, 2009 issue of TIME Magazine reads:

“Throw away the briefcase: you’re not going to the office. You can kiss your benefits goodbye too. And your new boss won’t look much like your old one. There’s no longer a ladder, and you may never get to retire, but there’s a world of opportunity if you figure out a new path.”

The cover image, for its part, gives form to the distasteful idea that a young dope fresh out of college could soon be your boss, not for his wits and skills, but because experience, knowledge, wisdom – the costly corporate ladder, in short – has been pulled out from under everyone climbing it. The young guy – and the boss, for TIME, does indeed seem to be generally male – may not know much about what he’s doing, but he costs less and is cheaper to insure.

What TIME seems to be explicitly endorsing here is the no holds barred, free-for-all, openly oppressive corporate model (or non-model, really) emerging in the wake of the collapse of the already-tenuous, already-insufficient system of benefits, promotion, and reward. TIME may not have anything to say about the mechanisms facilitating the collapse, but they’re happy to describe with pep the new world order and “what this means for you.” Can we really call this journalism, even with the most liberal sense of the term?

Sure, this worldview may now be a reality, but what is so reprehensible aboutTIME‘s description of it is not the world it references, but the carefree manner in which its emergence is taken as an irreversible, and ultimately acceptable, state of affairs. The phrase “kiss your benefits goodbye too” could hardly be more collaborative in spirit, and detached from the full painful effect it engenders. It comes off like it’s no big deal that people will rather suddenly no longer have access to basic medical care. Just adjust and adapt; that’s all.

Furthermore, as anyone who has suffered or survived a mass layoff or company restructuring can attest, these measures are neither necessary nor evenly distributed. Companies are happy to lay off thousands of people, and slash benefits for the rest, before touching the salaries, bonuses, or stock options of the management class, which of course already soak-up an overwhelmingly-disproportionate percentage of company income.

Indeed, the slashing of benefits and further precipitous drop in wages comes as the swift achievement of a long-restrained attempt to permanently crush labor power, to squeeze workers even more than they already were. The financial collapse merely provides the alibi or excuse for implementing a labor arrangement that will persist long past the recovery and which was already in effect well before the “official” September 2008 collapse. The pay gap between executive/management and labor is increasing, not decreasing, and with greater, not lesser, speed.

Just where the “world of opportunity” has been relocated, as TIME insists it has, remains a mystery, but, like Xanadu, we cannot be helped or advised on our journey to “figure out a new path” to this mythical place. And yet, there’s no doubt we’ll continue to encounter, with much greater frequency, vague references to these new paths and alternative means of enrichment, which will have to remain as elusive as they are fictive. The need for this myth is, however, itself a symptom of the strategic refusal to acknowledge the scale with which the labor force is currently being robbed, squeezed, and turned-out for the benefit of a very small group of people. It’s only a matter of time, then, before these upbeat, disillusioned pep talks ring dangerously hollow.

“New Media Technology” Delegation Travels to Iraq

Jeremy Scahill is not pleased:

The U.S. State Department has announced it is sponsoring a “New Media Technology” delegation to Iraq to “explore new opportunities to support Iraqi government and non-government stakeholders in Iraq’s emerging new media industry.” Of all of the areas in Iraq in desperate need of attention, its “emerging new media industry” is not the one that pops to mind. Things like clean water, electricity, right of safe return for refugees and an end to the occupation seem more pressing than increasing Nouri al Maliki’s Twitter followers. But unfortunately, that’s how U.S. priorities in Iraq seem to work.

Anyway, the super star tech delegation, according to the State Department press release, includes “a mix of CEOs, Vice-Presidents and senior representatives” from “AT&T, Google, Twitter, Howcast, Meetup, You Tube and Automattic/Wordpress.”

But the final company listed as participating in the delegation begs for some sort of special review: Blue State Digital, a firm which boasts its services were “Critically important to President Obama’s victory” in the November election. Indeed, federal campaign spending records indicate that the Obama campaign paid the firm at least $2,864,138 in 2007-2008, including more than $700,000 on election day.

But I wonder if Scahill’s anger is slightly misplaced. This project doesn’t seem to be occurring at the expense of, or instead of, other infrastructure projects, so to phrase it that way is a little misleading. I don’t think a prioritizing of projects is necessarily the central issue here.

According to the State Department’s press release:

During their visit to Iraq, they will provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building. As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite the American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis.

Is this old-fashioned economic colonization, only this time channeled through new media and information technology corporations, or is it a genuine attempt to put in place potentially-democratic tools and infrastructure conducive to coordination and transparency?