What we make out of the digital Revolution

By Alexander Klier By Jeffrey Backus Mar 9, 2015
What we make out of the digital Revolution

Translation of the Original Article by Alexander klier

How we work in the future does not depend on the digital technology as a technique, but how we use it, and under which conditions its operation is taking place.
Picture: Wikimedia_Foundation_Servers by Victorgrigas under the terms of the Creative Commons 3.0 - BY-SA (Attribution - Share Alike).

Marc Beise, Head of the Economic Department of the Süddeutsche Zeitung has published an essay on Friday 06 March 2015 in the context of the research "Between exploitation and self-realization: How do we work in the future?" available in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Thus this article joins the debate in the IT Industry about the future of work and the workplace of the future (here, here and here are links to some discussions on the web). I feel called upon to write this post, because I disagree with the basic premise of the article, as well since I will fundamentally be broaching the theme myself  at the Social Business Arena at CeBIT next week and discuss it there with attendees. Why now do I find the essay by Beise - to put it mildly - written confusingly? Because he does not really put forward arguments for why the digital revolution, represents the (alleged) problem - or the solution. And because it is a colorful mix of known issues, where the solutions are still pending. In no way do I want to deny that some of the presented facts in this series do not imply serious societal erroneous trends. What I do deny is that this is blamed on the digital revolution. Particularly many political decisions and corporate actions have led to these developments.

What does the digital revolution do to us?

The digital revolution is not a natural event. Therefore, Beise already sets the wrong track with the title of the article. The rousing title “What the digital revolution does to us” initially paints a completely inverted picture of who should be the subject or the object in the digital revolution. The technology as a historical subject that does something with the people (as victims)? This idea is widespread not just among cultural pessimists and technology critics. You can illustrate how incorrect this picture is by using Technology Sociology, for example. In order to let a technology sociologists have their say: "Technologies are results of social action" (Rammert 2006, S. 3 here). The design context becomes particularly clear, if you disregard individual (digital) artifacts and regard their social embedding. "Then count [...] the social standards and economic accounting systems, the contractual and legal codes as well as the regulatory authorities and operating organizations" (cited above, p.5) inextricably to technology and particularly to their use. All institutions of people to shape their common coexistence. Therefore, also facilities that would or should have to answer the questions, what we make of the digital revolution. When it is clarified, what we do want it to be, as well as the goals in social discourse are clarified. One of these goals for me is the decent design of the digital workplace, because only such a sustainable contribution is actually able to generate the business result.

Three analog revolutions and …

“You can […] hardly resist its impact. Especially not if you think twice about where the digital revolution is still leading. What it does to us, and to our way of working” (Beise). Here they were again, his thoughts, moored to a fictional work, a novel. Quite abruptly followed by a brief historical review of three revolutions of the working world á la Beise. The lists were wrong for me, because normally the digital revolution represents the third revolution. It followed the industrial revolution (use of fossil energy and automation through assembly line work); which in turn was preceded by the Neolithic Revolution in science (the first manufacturing industry of humanity). It becomes entirely confusing, when the globalization is added. Hello? Globalization is not really a new phenomenon that has already caused radical changes in the analog world. Finally Beise adds interrupted careers to the revolutionary game. These should point to the fragility of the so-called normal working biography and of normal working conditions. Besides the fact that this is certainly one of the most important categories that must be re-deposited with objectives, this however, has only indirectly to do with the digital revolution. Just as the reference to the development of precarious employment (not atypical, mind you) should not be seen in terms of a causal connection. At least not on its own. There are further examples how Beise strings things together and mixes them up, that are unrelated to each other in the sense of cause and effect. This can also be read in sentences such as "The presence culture is becoming an experience culture", which in his eyes describes the phenomenon of borderless and mobile work. Why this should be is not obvious to me in or out of the essay. Nevertheless, at the end he points out that there is a positive design claim and that the work on the future of work has just begun.

… the digital revolution

The constraint that for some people can come out of the materiality and opacity of technical systems or processes (Rammert, cited above), is often equated with a power of technology or rule of the computer. To me this indicates a particularly important aspect of the digital transformation: that namely a design of digital transformation, also and especially in terms of work, not only depends on the sheer political will or particularly virtuously acting people (optionally executives). The structural and procedural question is just as important and in this respect they are also to be clarified independently. For the occupational or business context, this means, for example, to think about how the future cooperation should take place and in what form the digital technology can support and advance this cooperation. That is ultimately the subject and the background of the question of reorganization of the framework conditions of work at the Social Business Arena.

Designing means Do and Make

This is also the background behind the thoughts, which we at Beck et al. have very largely absorbed ourselves with in in the sense of High Performance (Social) Collaboration. With the expressly plea - and explicit knowledge – that the future of work can be seen in the collaborative cooperation of communities in companies. The digital revolution can be incredibly help- and blissful. However, it is not „by nature”. You have to want and implement it in the corporate context. This wanting provides the answer to what we can actually do positively. For us at Beck et al. a Social Collaboration also positively means to be social as employer - in the colloquial sense. For example, keeping an eye on the well-being and possibilities for self-realization of the employees. Digital Workplaces suit this purpose very well, by the way.