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XXVIII.4 July - August 2021
Page: 5
Digital Citation

The labor of tech


Authors:
Daniela Rosner, Alex Taylor, Mikael Wiberg

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Visit a work site today and it's hard not to find emerging technology. Networked cameras that monitor the activities of domestic care workers. Apps that trace the movement of ride-sharing workers and mobile shoppers. Smart soap dispensers that tally how often hospital employees wash their hands. From warehouses to office parks, the fruits of our field pervade an increasingly measured and managed workforce.

To think about labor technology is to gaze into this fraught landscape. It is to grapple with data-driven mechanisms that shape individual bodies and collective lives. When managers at technology factories like Foxconn's iPhone assembly lines can track and trace workers, they can also isolate individuals. The isolation prevents workers from forging strong social bonds and union-like protections that come from workers organizing. Such forms of surveillance can turn intimate and treacherous under the gaze of social control.


From warehouses to office parks, the fruits of our field pervade an increasingly measured and managed workforce.


Whether drawn into flexibility or uncertainty, workers face immense hurdles that the authors of this issue take up across a variety of sites. With contributions from Rida Qadri, Noopur Raval, Kamela Heyward-Rotimi, Nithya Sambasivan, and Grant Otsuki, among many others, we learn about invisible laborers from Jakarta to Bengaluru, the precariousness of global platform workers, and the vital connections between knowledge and labor. Seyram Avle and Sarah Fox use their curation of standpoints to launch a new forum on tech labor for the magazine.

Together these contributions show us how tech labor is at once physical, social, economic, and political. It is pervasive and specific. It exacts and extracts the needs of a late capitalist world order. Risk assessment tools. Data-driven ranking. Automated scheduling assistants. Conversational agents. Mobile robots. To grapple with these varied and far-reaching changes, we need to look beyond things to the policies and infrastructures that condition them. Tech labor calls on us, as technology designers, practitioners, and researchers, to pay attention to policymaking, in all its forms.

Daniela K. Rosner, Alex S. Taylor, Mikael Wiberg eic@interactions.acm.org

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2021 ACM, Inc.

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